By MYLAH REYES ROQUE
ELECTION day was no ordinary day for Jun Macasieb and Noli Prestado.
Both were patiently waiting at the Maybunga Elementary School in Pasig the entire morning of Monday last week to assist fellow voters with disabilities.
The two men—one in a wheelchair, the other missing the use of one hand—made sure other PWDs who couldn’t climb the stairs could be carried up while those who might not find their way, were readily directed to their cluster precincts.
Macasieb said as soon as they saw a fellow PWD, they approached him or her.
“If they need help to be carried up the stairs, we ask for the help of PPCRV. The volunteers carried two PWDs up the second floor and two more to the third floor so they can vote,” he said.
It was only in the afternoon, when the long lines of voters had dwindled, that the two made their own way to vote.
Prestado abandoned his wheelchair at the foot of the stairs to slowly walk up the stairs, one arm leaning on the balustrade, the other leaning on Macasieb. Both men have orthopaedic disability: Prestado has polio while Macasieb is missing one hand.
Macasieb is president while Prestado is vice president of PWD organization AKKAPP (Abot-Kamay ng mga may Kapasansanang Pasigueno ang Pag-unlad). Macasieb works with Prestado in the latter’s electronics and electrical repair shop.
The group had anticipated that there wouldn’t be any more carrying or long and uncomfortable climbing of stairs for PWDs in this year’s elections.
Macasieb said the Department of Social Welfare and Development had briefed him and their members of their rights as voters. He said Maybunga Elementary School had prepared rooms on its ground floor that were compliant with the requirements of Comelec Resolutions 9640 and 9485 for the creation of “accessible polling places” (APPs) for PWDs,senior citizens, heavily pregnant women and escorted detainee voters.
The APPs are supposed to be “free of any physical barriers” and provide “the necessary mobility, communications, visual and other forms of assistance for the PWDs.”
Prestado said they could not understand why the plan to create APPs nationwide did not push through.
By his own estimate, the school has less than 30 PWD voters. This small number of PWD voters in most precincts, like Maybunga, weighed against the extra expense for a Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEI), extra support staff, and separate set of election paraphernalia resulted in Comelec designating only two schools in Cavite the with supposedly the highest number of PWD registered voters in the country as APP.
According to Prestado, the DSWD sought out AKKAPP as well as other PWDs in his community two years ago and briefed them on their rights and privileges as PWDs.
Macasieb admits the Pasig City local government has since been supportive and has been assisting them in his organization’s projects.
Even before election day, AKKAPP had already mapped and located the voting precincts of its members. Macasieb said: “Alam na naming kung sino ang kailangan na buhatin. Yung mga members namin nabulag. May kasamang mga assistors at tinulungan naming sila na hanapin ang kanilang clustered precinct (We know who should be carried, our members who have visual impairment. They have assistors and we help them find their clustered precincts).”
The Comelec sent letters informing registered voters their voting precinct number. The Comelec, however, grouped as many as six to eight precincts into clusters sharing one PCOS machine. This information, as well as the location of the cluster, was available only on election day.
Macasieb, though, is happy at the turnout of PWD voters. AKKAPP initially expected only 15 of its own voting-age members to vote but Macasieb said seven more PWDs came, all now prospective recruits to AKKAP.
The group at present has 48 members who have orthopedic, visual or hearing disability. In Pasig City, there is a separate organization for PWDs with developmental and learning disabilities.
Macasieb said AKKAP needs to recruit more members. He admits some PWDs in the community are either unaware of their rights and privilege under the law or prefer to remain unaware.
“Iniisip pa rin nila na nakakahiya na may kapansanan, pero hindi. Ibang-iba na ngayon (They still think it’s embarrassing to have disabilities, but that isn’t the case. It’s different this time),” he said.