The 2019 mid-term elections had a higher turnout of PWD voters compared to the 2016 Presidential elections (citation to follow) and while COMELEC Resolution 10486 made sure that there will be facilities such as the Emergency Accessible Polling Place and the Accessible Polling Place that will enable the PWDs, seniors, the heavily pregnant and mothers with children to vote without having to go up and down steep staircases. It is accessible because it is on the ground floor.
There have been stories of PWDs on wheelchairs being lifted up several floors and seniors exerting needless effort, but all these personal sacrifices were meant to exercise our God-given right to suffrage as elections are our only opportunity to be heard as a people.
For the first time as a PWD, I moved to District 1 of Makati where I now live. I used to be a District 2 voter and would usually vote at the Nemesio Yabut Elementary School. It was a dreary exercise where I would spend around three hours in line to cast my ballot. However I moved to a new residence that is walking distance from a hospital because of my condition and prompted me to move my voter registration to District 1.
I went Brgy Bel-air’s gymnasium with the expectation that I would need to usual three hours. To my surprise, the gymnasium is air conditioned, which was quite delightful because of the punishing heat. Since I already knew my precinct and precinct cluster, I asked someone with a Brgy ID where Precinct 111A was located. Not only did the lady point me out to the right place, she accompanied me, much like what a theater usher would. At the desk, there was only one person, who moved to the other table to allow me to transact without delay. Because I knew my number on the list, they found my name right away. I was bringing out my PWD ID but told me it wasn’t necessary. The BOI clerk gave me my ballot in the secrecy folder and pointed me to a very long table which many chairs and had a marking pen in each space.
I wanted to make sure I was going to make use of the APP or the accessible polling place. When I asked for it, the barangay official said “we don’t have one”. I politely protested by pointing out that it is the law that there should be one. She replied “we don’t have one because we don’t need one.”
True enough, the entrance from the street to the polling place is very PWD friendly, doors are very wide and going to the bathroom is not a problem because of the smooth transition from the gymnasium floor to the paved concrete and into the bathroom stalls, which had a special PWD cubicle with bars for the user to hold on to.
It took me about 10 minutes to vote because I already had a list of favored candidates and party list. Feeding the ballot into the Vote Counting Machine was only a few seconds and the machine produced a receipt that allowed me to review my ballot. After seeing that all is well, I gave the receipt back to the clerk and started to walk away from my precinct. At the entrance was a gentleman giving away free Coke. He showed me a machine where all I needed to do was put my finger with the indelible ink against a sensor and the machine immediately churned out a Coke bottle. It was quite a novelty but I refused because I’m diabetic.
The whole voting experience was quite a joy. It is how elections should be. Comfortable, accessible, easy and without incident. I even spent a little time sitting around seeing how things are being conducted and I found nothing to rant about. The gym floor was even covered with a special tarp that prevented slipping for those who might be wearing slippery shoes. It is a perfect scene for anyone who wants to go out and vote.
Alas, the whole Philippines is not the Barangay Bel-air gymnasium. Many precincts experienced breakdowns of the VCMs, had long lines of angry voters and seniors and PWDs not being able to vote. In some precincts still, there was fighting and grenade blasts. Traditionally, Mindanao voters have become witnesses to yet another round of violence and terrorism by political wanna-bes who would never win unless they cheated. Worse, in some areas in Isabela, they burned entire VCMs and ballots. While there were areas under the control of the COMELEC, there was never a failure of elections anywhere in the country.
I continue to wish that the whole country is as convenient and as efficient as Barangay Bel-air, where PWDs and seniors need not have special facilities and can mingle with all the other voters, become one with the rest of society.
Even with the passage of the Accessibility Law, government structures’ compliance to provide barrier free access leaves so much to be desired, and polling places are no exception. We need to realize that we need champions every where to spouse awareness and real accessibility to PWDs. a collective voice in Congress is a boon towards this endeavor. is there a party list in Congress that has this as its main agenda…..a true representative for the upliftment of PWDs and even seniors in the mainstream of society. If there is not a true one, we need to have serious thought and strong collective action towards its fruition.