Developments in the Focused Monitoring Efforts of LENTE for Vulnerable Sectors for the 2023 Barangay and SK Elections
October 30, 2023, Quezon City. The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) continues to observe election day processes, with particular focus on the voting experiences of Persons with Disability (PWD), Older Persons (OP), Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL), and Indigenous Peoples (IPs).
Voting of Persons with Disability, Older Persons, and Heavily pregnant voters in APPs and EAPPs
LENTE monitors observed the voting of persons with disabilities and older persons across the National Capital Region, particularly, vulnerable sector voting in Emergency-Accessible Polling Places (E-APP) and Accessible Polling Places (APP). Overall, LENTE monitors observed long queues in E-APPs which prompted some persons with disabilities and older persons to vote in less accessible polling places located on upper floors.
In Tondo High School, older persons and persons with disabilities (PWDs) opted to vote in polling precincts located on the 2nd and 4th floors due to disorganized queues and limited assistance at the Emergency Accessible Polling Place (EAPP). In Fernando Ma. Guerrero Elementary School, only one room was designated for senior citizens, leading to long queues, and some senior citizens who arrived early could not vote as of 9:00 AM. In Lakandula High School, one polling place was designated for older persons and persons with disabilities who are unable to climb to higher floors. Nonetheless, older persons and PWDs, who are able, still voted on the 2nd to 4th floors.
In Bagong Barangay Elementary School, one regular polling place had a label that said it had an express lane. However, according to the EB, there will be no priority lane for older persons. In the same school, the EAPP was located on the first floor but served only one barangay. Elderly voters from other barangays had to climb to the upper floors. Additionally, a LENTE volunteer observed an elderly woman who almost didn't vote due to exhaustion. This happened because the EB members repeatedly directed her to different floors. Initially, she was told to go to the 4th floor, and then to an adjacent building. When she arrived at the adjacent building, she was told to proceed to the 3rd floor. However, upon reaching the 3rd floor, the EB guided her to the 2nd floor.
Among the election irregularities observed by LENTE volunteers in EAPPs and APPs include: a) watchers assisting an elderly voter to a polling precinct on the 4th floor, b) a voter discovering that someone else has already voted in their name in the process of affixing the thumbmark (both in Bagong Barangay Elementary School), and c) voting being carried out in alphabetical order instead of first come first served (Lakandula High School). For the latter, persons with disabilities, older persons, and heavily pregnant voters were nonetheless prioritized.
Voting in Satellite Emergency Accessible Polling Places
LENTE monitors were deployed in all three Satellite-Emergency Accessible Polling Places (SEAPP), namely, Hospicio de San Jose in Manila City, Tahanang Walang Hagdanan in Cainta, Rizal, and the National Vocational Rehabilitation Center in Quezon City.
LENTE monitors in Tahanang Walang Hagdanan received feedback from several voters, saying they preferred voting in their original precincts. This is because it had a more straightforward voting process, as ballots for S-EAPP had to be retrieved from the main precincts. Voting commenced between 9:30 and 9:40 AM due to the delay in retrieving the ballots. Additionally, there were cases where voters who registered at Tahanang Walang Hagdanan were shown as unregistered, so they were accommodated to vote in the main precinct. Voting closed at 1:25 PM at the said S-EAPP.
Voting in Hospicio de San Jose also commenced late. It started around 9:30 AM, despite having a queue of voters as early as 7:00 AM. The delay stemmed from the late arrival of the Electoral Board and COMELEC personnel. The support staff also took a long time to retrieve the ballots.
In contrast, voting started on time in the National Vocational Rehabilitation Center (NVRC). Authorization forms were signed way ahead of the polls, thus, the ballots for voters were already retrieved during the weekend.
Persons Deprived of Liberty Voting
LENTE monitors were also deployed in several special polling places in New Bilibid Prison Bureau of Correction, Manila City Jail Dormitory, Puerto Princesa City Jail, Iligan City Jail, and Angeles City Jail. Voting across all observed facilities did not start on time and were delayed for approximately 1 to 3 hours.
In New Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa City, LENTE monitors indicated that, between 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM, ballots had not yet been retrieved. Nonetheless, adherence to election day procedures was generally followed. A notable observation, however, was the absence of express lanes for PDL voters who are also persons with disabilities and older persons. It was also reported that there was no IPP established but a separate building was designated as a polling place for detainees with tuberculosis. As of 1:00 PM, voting ended in the facility. LENTE volunteers continue to monitor the turnover of several ballots to their mother precinct at Poblacion Elementary School.
In Manila City Jail Dormitory, voting commenced at around 10:00 AM after the arrival of most of the ballots at 9:30 AM. A notable concern was expressed by the Special Electoral Board-PDL (SEB-PDL) Support Staff who reported that there were several Electoral Board members who were unaware of the ballot retrieval process for eligible detainee voters. Similar to New Bilibid Prison, there were no express lanes for detainees who were also persons with disabilities and older persons. Monitors reported that there was an IPP established but they were not allowed to view it due to security considerations.
In Angeles City Jail, there was a delay in the start of voting, as ballots only arrived in the said detention center by 9:15am. When the SEB-PDL was asked about the delay, they mentioned that the support staff experienced difficulties in getting the ballots from their original polling precincts.
At the Puerto Princesa City Jail, the Special Electoral Board-PDL (SEB-PDL) arrived at the detention center later than required, at approximately 5:46 AM. Other notable observations include the absence of a voters' assistance desk and the absence of a Posted Computerized Voters List (PCVL) at the entrance. This action was explained by the EB Chairperson, who stated that it was no longer necessary when clarified by a City Jail Officer.
A LENTE observer in Iligan City Jail observed that the overall voting process was generally smooth despite the delay in the opening of polls, by 6:43 AM. A notable concern reported was a detainee voter who had been indicated as "released" in the PCVL. This was being resolved upon the last report of the LENTE monitor.
Indigenous Peoples' Voting
LENTE is closely monitoring the voting process of Indigenous Peoples in Occidental Mindoro and Palawan. A long queue in an Exclusive Separate Polling Place (E-SPP) in Baclaran Elementary School, Brgy. Pinagturilan, Sta. Cruz, Occidental Mindoro was observed. In response to this, the Electoral Board promptly implemented a strategic numbering system to effectively manage the crowd, ensuring an efficient and organized voting experience. However, this is contrary to COMELEC's policy of first come, first served rule.
Long queues were also observed for both IP and non-IP lanes in Regular Polling Place with Express Lanes at M. Rodriguez Elementary School, Brgy. Barahan, Occidental Mindoro. IP Voters raised their concerns on missing names on the Posted Computerized Voter's List (PCVL). LENTE monitors also observed that the Department of Education Supervisor Official (DESO) tasked the Electoral Board members to specifically reserve four (4) chairs exclusively for IP voters.
A similar situation was noted at El Euberto Soriano Elementary School in Brgy. Luman, Bayan, Sta. Cruz, Occidental Mindoro, albeit with more organized lanes. LENTE monitors observed the Voters Assistance Desk was manned by the DESO and DESO Support Staff. Additionally, IP voters raised concerns regarding Electoral Board members not allowing IP assistors to aid them during the voting process.
In Palawan, LENTE monitors witnessed well-organized and smooth voting procedures for a total of 104 Indigenous Peoples (IP) voters at Cabayugan Elementary School - Sugod Annex, Sitio Sugod Uno, Barangay Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa City. Similarly, at Marnek Elementary School, Sitio Marnek, Barangay Aramaywan, Quezon Palawan. The voting processes for more than 300 IP voters were conducted in an orderly manner. The same level of orderliness was observed at Nanabu Elementary School, Sitio Nanabu, Barangay Caramay, Roxas, Palawan.
With only thirty minutes remaining for Filipinos to exercise their voting rights, LENTE would like to remind those who were not able to vote in the E-APPs that they can still vote in Regular Polling Places with express lanes.
LENTE would also like to emphasize the importance of ensuring that individuals within a 30-meter radius from the polling place, after the official closing time of 3:00 PM, are still afforded the opportunity to cast their votes under the supervision of the Electoral Board.