At Large

A vote for the disabled

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The United Nations estimates that in any country, 10 percent of the population is composed of disabled persons—the blind or visually impaired, the deaf or hearing impaired, the physically disabled or wheelchair-bound, and the developmentally or mentally impaired.

Because our population is estimated at between 90 million and 100 million, it’s safe to say that there are nine to 10 million Filipinos living with disability today. Which is why it’s such a mystery why no party representing the disabled sector has ever won under the party-list system, which went into effect after the lapse of the terms of the appointed representatives. (The late journalist and columnist Art Borjal was the appointed representative of the disabled sector in Congress.)

For the May 13 polls, only one party representing people with disabilities has been accredited by the Commission on Elections. That party is PWD, or Pilipinos with Disabilities, No. 10 on the ballot under the party-list system.

The party nominees are: Michael “Mike” Barredo, who went blind after a car accident but went on to become a businessman and spokesperson for the Filipino disabled community; Manuel Agcaoili, who is wheelchair-bound; Adeline Ancheta, Octavio Gonzales, and Luis Arellano, all of them leaders of the disabled movement.

Explaining the Comelec decision to accredit PWD, retired commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that, first, all the nominees are themselves disabled, and second, all “have a track record of working with and for persons with disabilities.”

On the other hand, PWD leaders say that when “able” people speak for the disabled and make decisions for them, “they miss a lot of things given that they have no experience or intimate knowledge of our issues.”

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In a recent decision, the Supreme Court ruled that party-list groups need not themselves represent sectors of “the disadvantaged or marginalized,” and that nominees need not even hail from the sectors they seek to represent.

Still, we must not forget the social justice agenda that impelled the framers of the Constitution, and the authors of the Party-list Law, to specify the underrepresented sectors (including the disabled and women) that are entitled to one or more seats in Congress.

A vote for PWD, then, is a vote for giving meaning to the intents and principles of the party-list system, breathing life to the moral imperative that those “who have less in life should have more in law.”

If voting for the disabled sector is not your cup of tea, there are many other parties that seek to represent other disadvantaged and underrepresented sectors. Ang Ladlad, for one, comes to mind, seeking to represent the interests and address the legal barriers to full representation of the LGBT (or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenders) in Philippine law and society. Other parties, such as Akbayan, seek to represent a broader cross-section of society. The party’s history in the House speaks of its determination to work for the interests of such sectors as farmers, workers, women, sexual minorities and the poor.

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In these final days of the campaign before the Filipino electorate troops to the polls, civil society groups are launching “Rock the Vote 2013.” Led by the People Power Volunteers for Reform (PPVR) and the Yellow Ribbon Movement, “Rock the Vote” reaches out to young voters in support of reform and reform-minded candidates.

The movement was launched at a press conference attended by Regal Films matriarch “Mother” Lily Monteverde, who announced her support for Team PNoy “senatoriables” Bam Aquino and Risa Hontiveros.

Said Yellow Ribbon Movement spokesperson Cleofe Llamas at the launch: “We believe it is our duty, as it is the duty of every caring citizen, to vote into office legislators who can create laws that will help our President deliver on the promise of affordable, if not totally free, medical care and health benefits, quality education, stable employment, affordable homes, peace and security and adequate food supply for all.” The groups are endorsing Aquino and Hontiveros as well.

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In the last few days of the campaign, “Rock the Vote 2013” will mount a series of concerts nationwide, hitting the key cities of Dagupan (May 6), Davao (May 7), Batangas (May 8), and Cebu (May 9), featuring some of the country’s top rock bands, performers, and celebrities.

Along with the concert series, “Rock the Vote 2013” will also include the revival of the historic “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” campaign to inspire and enjoin supporters of Aquino, Hontiveros, and the rest of the Team PNoy slate to tie yellow ribbons on their homes, vehicles, and other private establishments to show their support for P-Noy’s “daang  matuwid” and the need to continue pushing for reforms.

Say the groups: “‘Rock the Vote 2013’ will remind the Filipino people: Hindi pa tapos ang laban (The fight isn’t over)! In 1986, we came together to oust a dictator; in 2010, we came together once more to kick out corruption in government; in 2013, we are coming together to continue pushing for reforms of the Aquino administration and end poverty.”

It is said that the majority of Filipino voters are composed of young people, those from 18 to 30. Their advocacies, I would imagine, are the same as those of their elders: clean government, an end to hunger and poverty, health services, reduced violence and criminality. But young people likewise have their own particular causes: education, jobs, opportunities.

Clearly, their choices would—or should—fall on those who not only promise to address these needs, but who have also shown a track record working on these issues and championing the dreams and aspirations of young Filipinos.

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