GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/28 October)—In less than five minutes after approaching the Board of Election Tellers on Monday for the 2013 Barangay Elections, Gloria Rivera and Bartolome Hoyo separately emerged from the polling center with wide smiles.
Unlike majority of the voters who suffered the scorching heat of the sun and long queues to vote in public schools, the two septuagenarians, for the first time in their lives, were voting in the comfort of a shopping mall.
Rivera, 79, and Hoyo 76, were the among the 68 senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) from Barangay Lagao here who agreed to be part of a pilot project of the Commission on Elections.
But only 59 of them or 86 percent had cast their vote by the time the special voting closed at 1:00 p.m., or two hours earlier than the regular polling precincts.
This city is one of only four areas in the country selected by the Comelec for the initial implementation of Republic Act (RA) 10366, or “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Establish Precincts Assigned to Accessible Polling Places Exclusively for Persons with Disabilities and Senior Citizens.”
“There’s no queuing, it’s not tiring. This is very good for us senior citizens,” said Rivera, recalling that in the previous elections, voting has been difficult for her since she has to look for her precinct amid the huge crowd.
Citing her age and her foot ailment, Rivera said she would not have voted if she has to cast her vote inside the public school in Monday’s barangay elections.
For his part, Hoyo praised the Comelec for the chance to vote away from the “maddening crowd inside the public school.”
“In my regular precinct during the past elections, the line was very long. The precinct itself is cramped and hot,” he told MindaNews.
“I hope in the next elections, it will still be like this for us senior citizens and the PWDs. No long lines and easy to find your name to vote quickly,” Hoyo added.
Lawyer Donna Bernardo, a staffer of Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca who was here to observe the special voting, told MindaNews those who participated in the special polls did it voluntarily.
“They consented to be part of this special exercise. Under the law, you cannot just get the record of voters from their precincts,” she said.
In the entire country, Bernardo said that a total of 224 senior citizens and PWDs consented to be part of the special voting, all held inside SM malls through a memorandum of agreement with the Comelec.
The other pilot areas were Manila, Batangas and Cebu.
Padaca, who heads the Comelec’s committee on PWDs and senior citizens, earlier said they will use the results of the special voting for the planned nationwide implementation of RA 10366 in the 2016 local and national elections.
“If this will turn out successful, we will launch a nationwide massive information and education campaign in preparation for the 2016 elections,” she said.
The special voting opened at 7 a.m. at SM City General Santos, and before the store could open to the general public at 10 a.m., over half of those who enlisted have already cast their vote.
Bernardo said the ballots will be returned to their respective precincts once voting closes at 3 p.m. for counting.
She explained the special voting had to close at 1:00 p.m. to give ample time for the ballots to be brought to the regular polling precincts for the counting.
Apparently there was a miscommunication to the public as some elderly came in for naught.
There were some senior citizens who walked in at the mall to vote but were turned away because they were not on the list, said Anthony Ebol, a local Comelec worker.
“This is not for all senior citizens or PWDs but for those selected and had given their consent,” he said.
Most of those who participated in the special voting were senior citizens at a total of 65, with only three PWDs.
This city has a total of 239,319 registered voters for the barangay elections clustered in 704 precincts out of the 1,753 established precincts. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)