It has been a few weeks since we had our first automated election experience last May 10. Traces of indelible ink smudge are still in my left fingernail. All the senators and majority of the congressmen and other elected officials were already proclaimed by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). This by far is the fastest election we had since voting for our leaders began in the early 20s. I must say, despite the mud-throwing, killing, vote-buying and other election related anomalies that happened, still, this is the best thing that happened to my country.
Now what about the Filipino deaf’s experience?
I won’t be delving into other disabled group, although I have seen some of them in my precinct as well as publicized in major TV networks. I will focus on my observation from the deaf’s perspective.
I was blessed to assist two deaf voters. The three of us who went to Immaculate Conception High School in Quezon City were: Deaf Ervin, who has been a registered voter since early nineties, and Deaf Jerome, a first time voter and me. Inasmuch as I want to help many deaf people, I can’t because of the distance between polling centers. However, I was able to monitor other deaf from my community the day after.
So at 9 in the morning, we walked all the way to the school which is adjacent to the Immaculate Conception Parish Church. Usually, public schools were used as election venue. But our barangay does not have a nearby government school, so the private school was tapped as a polling area.
The first thing we saw after entering the school was a long table booth on the side of the quadrangle which was teeming with people. The area was used to assist voters. There were also wheel-chaired people circling the place helping other PWDs on what to do. There were also a couple of bulletin boards where all the list of voters are stapled. Since we already verified our precinct numbers on the Internet courtesy of www.comelec.gov.ph, we scanned through the papers with ease.
Now, the calvary starts when we went to the precinct venue at the 3rd floor of the school building. What’s unique in this election is that precincts are now clustered. Before, each polling place can accommodate from 200-400 voters. But in an automated system, a precinct must accept at least 1,000 registered voters. You could just imagine each room where 500 or so people are falling in line. The corridors are full. The sun’s scorching heat sips through the rooms. People’s nerves would certainly flare up.
I first assisted Deaf Jerome because he needs to vote on a different precinct. His experience was a lot better than ours. When I called the attention of the election officials that he is deaf, the lady officer asks if he can read and write. I was appalled by the questioning. I murmured, is that how they perceive a deaf person? Someone who doesn’t know how to read and write?
She was very cordial to us so I smilingly replied to her that he is a college graduate so he can read and write by himself. Their polling place was more orderly than the rest. They gave numbers written on small paper to each voter. They then asked them to sit on the nearby empty room and wait for their numbers to be called. This is what they did to Deaf Jerome. But what’s special for him is that, they asked him to wait in front of the door because he will be called soon. That’s a relief!
So a few minutes later, he was escorted inside the precinct, gave his ballot while alerting the rest of the Election Officials about his situation. So within 10 minutes, he completed the ritual of casting his votes with no hitch.
Falling in line usually takes place within minutes. In our case, Deaf Ervin and I lined up at 9:30 AM. We were able to cast our votes at almost lunchtime, AFTER TWO HOURS! When it was our turn, I asked the officials that we go together because he is deaf and I need to assist him. After that, everything went smoothly.
I heard from some of my deaf students that they were assisted by the members of their families. However, a great majority of them did not vote. Next time, I’ll strengthen my “Election Awareness Campaign” to my students. I would even impose some kind of a penalty to those who failed to register. I would also seek the cooperation of their parents by signing some sort of a commitment that they would assist their deaf child in exercising their rights.
Unless the newly elected president and vice president are not yet proclaimed as of today, the clouds of doubt about the veracity of automation would still envelop the whole country.
Overall, the actual election procedures did not pose any barriers against the deaf people. It’s the dissemination of information and of course, the concern and care from the family which counts the most. 🙂
Thank you very much to the election officials of Precinct No. 4518a and 4537a for your help. Mabuhay po kayo!