By ABS-CBN News
MANILA— Sen. Sonny Angara has sought early voting in the 2022 national elections for roughly 10 million senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) to encourage a higher voter turnout amid concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic would linger until then.
Angara is set to file a bill for early voting in 2022, citing how the elderly and PWDs face difficulties every elections because of accessibility issues in voting precincts.
He is also proposing extending voting hours for the general public on election day to encourage more to cast their votes.
“Mas makakabuti para sa ating mga seniors at PWDs na may hiwalay na araw ng pag boto para sa kanila. Napakahirap para sa kanila na pumila pa habang mainit at makipagsiksikan sa mga tao lalo na at may pandemiya pa. Alam naman natin kung gaano kadelikado para sa mga may edad na ang COVID-19 na hanggang ngayon ay wala pang bakuna,” Angara, a COVID-19 survivor, said in a statement Saturday.
(It would be better to have separate voting days for our seniors and PWDs. It's very hard for them to line up along with the others while we have a pandemic. We all know how dangerous COVID-19 is for the elderly and until now we have no vaccine.)
COVID-19, known to cause severe symptoms and even death to vulnerable seniors, has continued to spread in the country and was nearing the 300,000-mark as of Friday.
Angara said setting earlier voting days for the two sectors would also speed up queues at precincts on election day for the general public, allowing more to vote.
The lawmaker also urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to look at accessibility issues that seniors and PWDs face in voting precincts.
“Comelec should study using venues such as gymnasiums and covered courts for use of our seniors and PWDs on election day. They should also work on providing people to assist them on site. 'Wag na natin sila pahirapan pa (Let us not give them a hard time),” Angara said.
In seeking longer voting hours, Angara said that physical distancing would limit the number of voters entering precincts at a given time, slowing down the process.
The senator, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said he would ask Comelec about the status of its election preparations when the agency faces the chamber for its 2021 proposed budget.
“We want to ask Comelec sa budget hearing nila about their preparations for 2022 and if they have any contingency plans to deal with health concerns. This could be additional voting hours or days or additional precincts to better observe distancing and prevent crowding. But there may be logistical requirements for all of these which we will request details on during their budget hearing,” Angara said.
While changes may be necessary, he said the 2022 elections must go on as scheduled.
“What is important is that the elections must push through and our electorate is safe when they go to the polls. This is why we want the Comelec to start preparing already, using the best practices of other countries as their guide,” Angara said.
Earlier this week, Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo sought the postponement of the 2022 presidential elections over COVID-19 concerns, drawing criticism.