ELECTIONS

LOOK: Persons with disabilities and senior citizens cast their vote despite the struggle

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Long waiting times and unbearable heat are nothing to these persons with disabilities and senior citizens who want to fulfill their civic duty. Photo by JL JAVIER

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life, May 9) — At 6:30 a.m., just half an hour since the polling places opened, the area where persons-with-disabilities and senior citizens were lining up to vote was already buzzing with a mix of anticipation and confusion. Called the Emergency Accessible Polling Places or EAPP, many voters were taken by surprise at how the process works. The law requiring accessible polling places in precincts has been in place since 2013, but the situation on the ground shows that persons-with-disabilities and senior citizens are still unaware of the facilities or how they work.

In a 2019 report by Vera Files, the reasons for the failure of EAPPs include misinformation, long waiting lines, and unclear instructions.

In Magat Salamat Elementary School this morning as the CNN Philippines Life team was reporting on the ground, there were at least two people that had to drag their wheelchairs up stairs just to go up to their polling precincts. One even opted to leave the wheelchair on the first floor and was instead supported by a companion to go up the stairs.

Next to a ramp at the EAPP on the first floor, persons-with-disabilities and senior citizens opted to wait out there in the heat. Whether they walked with canes, other walking assistive devices, or motorized wheelchairs with umbrellas, they waited their turn to cast their vote.

Voters in line for the EAPP in Magat Salamat Elementary School in Tondo, Manila. Photo by JL JAVIER

The EAPP has a dedicated staff that will take you through the process, from validating your identity to getting your ballot from your precinct. Photo by JL JAVIER

But some were unfamiliar with how EAPPs work. All they knew was that they were lining up to the place where persons with disabilities and seniors could vote.

The EAPP has a dedicated staff that will take you through the process, from validating your identity to getting your ballot from your precinct. This is where some voters protest: if you’re able, you can go with the EAPP staff to feed your ballot into the machine and look at the receipt. If not, you will have to give the ballot to the support staff who will then feed the ballot to the machine in your precinct. The EAPPs have no dedicated vote counting machines. Voters will have to sign a waiver so the staff can process your ballot for them. EAPPs have a flowchart detailing the process (in Filipino). The support staff are also ready to take voters through the whole process even before they line up to vote.

The EAPP flowchart outside one of the EAPP facilities. Photo by the author

The presence of the EAPPs has confused some voters. Some have even mistaken it for “cheating” but COMELEC director James Jimenez clarified early on in the day how the EAPP setup works.

As the queue was getting longer, some of the support staff at Magat Salamat asked the more able seniors to go up to their respective precincts instead, so they wouldn't have to wait longer. Some didn’t budge. Some went anyway. “Kawawa naman mga senior!” said one man who had been waiting for several minutes in the heat. Still he persisted.

From the opening of the polling places up until lunchtime, persons-with-disabilities and senior citizens were in full force. The unbearable heat and long queues may deter people but for them, it’s as simple as performing their civic duty. Nothing more, nothing less.

Corazon Cruz, 80, said, “Kailangan [ko bumoto eh]. Pakinabang naman kung hindi ka boboto.” She has been up since 4 a.m. but had to wait for someone to take her to the school.

By 1 p.m. in Cubao Elementary school, where 8,958 voters are expected to turn out, things were slowing down in the EAPP. The biggest turnout so far was from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m.

An EAPP officer assisting a voter at the Cubao Elementary School. Photo by JL JAVIER

Fe Abunal, 85, from Novaliches, has also been up since 4 a.m. She waited one hour to cast her vote. “Regular [kasi ako bumoto], being a Filipino.”

As for the EAPP experience, she said, “Okay naman, binigay ko lang ang tiwala dun sa gusto nilang… for the sake of the senior na hindi kami mahirapan. Tiniwala na lang namin na wala namang monkey business.”

Was it okay that she wasn’t the one who fed her ballot to the counting machine? “Okay naman,” she said. “It’s for guidance.”

At Las Piñas City National Science High School, Professor Terrence Cervillon, 68, was not happy with his EAPP experience. Having undergone a heart operation, he hoped to cast his vote smoothly. When he got to the school, he couldn’t find his precinct. “Noon ang bilis, ngayon napakadisorderly ang arrangement ng clustering,” he said.

He was voting with his wife who is also a senior citizen. He approached us to say that the shading pens being used in the EAPP are not COMELEC-authorized, therefore invalidating their votes. But the EAPP support staff assured us that the pens they’re using are the ones authorized by the COMELEC.

“Lousy elections!” he added later before leaving.

At the same EAPP, Michelle Francisco accompanied her uncle Jose de Roxas to vote. For them it was a matter of convenience.

Both Michelle Francisco and her uncle Jose de Roxas voted at the EAPP in Las Piñas City National Science High School. Photo by JL JAVIER

“Okay lang sa kanya [dito sa EAPP] kasi ayaw na nyang lumayo. Pwede dito pero maghihintay kami. [Doon] pipila kami pero kami ang magpapasok ng balota namin. PWD kasi ako. Kailangan namin ng representative, eh wala.”

She has been at the precinct since 1:30 p.m. They finished at around 3:20 p.m.

By 4 p.m in Bonifacio Javier National High School in Mandaluyong, the situation at the EAPP was going smoothly. There is a little waiting time as they are going up the precincts by batch (there were eight in the EAPP staff) but the voters didn’t mind.

Antonio Mejia, 81, was with his grandson but didn’t wait long to cast his vote. Like the others, he voted because he didn’t want his status deactivated. “Para hindi mawala ‘yung pangalan sa national. Taon-taon naman bumoboto ako sa national eh.”

Antonio Mejia, 81, was with his grandson but didn’t wait long to cast his vote at the EAPP facility in Bonifacio Javier National High School in Mandaluyong. Photo by JL JAVIER

Election officer Gerleen Grace De Asis said they’re expecting more before the polling center closes.

Voters are hopeful for for the next six years, something that they carry with them as they surrender their ballots to the election officers, with trust that the elections will be go smoothly and honestly. Cruz hopes that “bumaba ang presyo ng mga bilihin saka magkaroon kaming mga senior citizen ng gamot na libre saka ayuda.”

For Francisco, she said, “Bumoto ako kasi gusto ko maging maayos naman ‘yung bansa natin, hindi ‘yung sobrang hirap na. ‘Yung may maiiangat naman tayo sa kahirapan.”