Notes from the Field

2013 Philippine Midterm Elections to Test Voter Participation Reforms

February 20, 2013

As the Philippines gears up for 2013 midterm elections in May, last week in Zamboanga city, persons with disabilities came out in full force to discuss achievements and challenges ahead of election day. Up until now, this group has been wholly underrepresented at the polls.

Indeed, this election is expected to test reforms that have been implemented in the past three years since the May 2010 presidential elections, including the synchronization of national and ARMM elections, strengthening voting capacity of vulnerable sectors such as persons with disabilities (PWDs), prisoners, and indigenous peoples, and the full automation of the national election.

For over 19 months, The Asia Foundation, with support from The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), has been in the forefront of driving better participation in the upcoming elections through the Fully Abled Nation (FAN) initiative, a disability-inclusive elections program that increases participation of PWDs in the May 2013 elections and other democratic processes. According to COMELEC figures, 65,972 new PWDs voters have registered from July 2011 until Oct. 31, 2012, the end of registration period, on top of approximately 350,000 old PWD voters.

PWD voters participate in a mock election conducted by COMELEC to prepare for May midterm elections.

PWD voters participate in a mock election conducted by COMELEC to prepare for May midterm elections. Photo/Emil Tapnio

The Fully Abled Nation initiative started in June 2011 and has worked closely with COMELEC’s strong push to increase voter registration and cleansing of voting records. For the first time, COMELEC also used voter registration to capture the number of PWD voters by revising their registration form to include types of disability and assistance needed during the elections. FAN partner organizations, which include disability peoples organizations (DPOs), NGOs, and election-focused organizations mimicked COMELEC’s calendar of activities to help increase voter registration. In every presentation conducted by FAN partner organizations, a satellite voters’ registration was set up specifically to encourage PWDs to register.

To increase awareness for PWDs about registration, we created and aired TV documentaries on two big media outlets (ABS-CBN and TV 5) as well as radio infomercials nationwide. FAN also supported TV sign language news interpreting so that the deaf community would also be aware of news related to the campaign, elections, candidates, and their programs of action.

We worked with Globe Telecom to get out text reminders to their 30 million subscribers for free, reminding them of important election-related dates. They will also provide more than 120 free cellular phone units with prepaid loads to FAN volunteers who will head monitoring of PWDs during the elections.

The FAN initiative was instrumental in the creation of COMELEC Resolution No. 9485 or the “Rules & Regulations for Voting of PWDs and for the Establishment of Accessible Voting Places in May 2013 Local and National Elections.” This was approved by the COMELEC last June 29, 2012. The Resolution served as the basis for the COMELEC General Instruction (GI), which was just released on February 15, and will govern the May 2013 elections.

With voter registration now closed, FAN is shifting gears to voter education to maintain the momentum of PWDs so that they actually go out to vote on election day. Cherry Pinpin, an air rifle competition champion and sailing enthusiast despite being an amputee said: “You as a PWD will be able to make a big change if you were to vote. You cannot hide at home and hope better leaders will come along because the better people to lead will not come along if you don’t vote. Choose wisely.”

Follow #FullyAbledNation on Twitter for updates.

Emil Tapnio is an assistant program officer for The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. He can be reached at etapnio@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

View all posts by Emil Tapnio

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