By Czarina Nicole Ong Ki | Manila Bulletin
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has mobilized public support to the passage of a bill and its enactment into law which would allow senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) to vote at least seven days before the actual date of elections in 2022.
Based on 2019 data of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), there are more than 8.5 million senior citizens and about 360,000 PWDs in the country.
In a statement, the CHR – through Spokesperson and lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia – lauded the move of Congress to make sure that the marginalized members of society, like the senior citizens and PWDs, can vote with more ease and comfort.
“This piece of legislation will also enable the Commission on Election, together with other line agencies, to designate accessible establishments for maximum voting participation of vulnerable populations,” De Guia said.
She cited the experiences of other countries where the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had impacted their elections because voters were more wary of exposure to the virus.
Also, she said, the exposure gives “additional burdens” to health officials who are tasked to ensure that the spread of the virus is kept at bay.
Thus, De Guia said, both the national and local governments have a responsibility to “proactively adopt” measures to assist people who may face particular challenges in voting.
“It includes ensuring that polling locations are physically accessible to voters; providing reasonable accommodation to older voters and PWDs; and addressing additional needs of other vulnerable and marginalized groups who also have the right to vote,” said pointed out.
“Apart from accessibility concerns, the government need to attend to new requirements for social distancing; personal protective equipment; and other health and safety measures in voting centers,” she said.
“The CHR reiterates that the duty of the government across the country should be to protect and affirm that meaningful act (right to vote), and ensure that all citizens can freely and equally exercise their voting rights in May 2022 and beyond,” she added.
Last May, the House Committee on Appropriations passed the bill. As co-author of the bill, Nueva Ecija 1st District Rep. Estrelita Suansing said:
“The elderly and persons with disabilities are at a disadvantage during election day because of two reasons—one, not all polling places are easily accessible for said groups, and number two, the large number of people in the voting places can be overwhelming. Such factors may end up discouraging said groups in casting their votes.”