MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections issued a clarification Tuesday in relation to Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento's recent comment on the low voters' registration turnout for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the Ilocos Region.
In an online report recently, Sarmiento was quoted as saying that the low PWD registration turnout is a 'good sign' because it reflects Ilocanos' 'good health'.
"You have few PWDs. Ibig sabihin malulusog po ang mga Ilocano…. Kaya ang bilang ng mga may kapansanan dito ay kakaunti," Sarmiento was quoted by Vera Files last June 4, 2012.
Sarmiento was in the Ilocos Region early this month to meet with election officials in the region on the conduct of special voters' registration for vulnerable sectors in the region including those of the PWD sector.
A regional chapter of a party-list organization, however, scored Sarmiento's comment, calling it "unfair and discriminatory."
"It was never my intention to offend anyone," Sarmiento said.
"I made those comments lightheartedly, to break the ice."
Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez affirmed Sarmiento's track record of standing up for PWD rights.
"Commissioner Sarmiento has the highest respect for our PWDs. In fact, he has long pushed for the empowerment of the most vulnerable sectors in our society - the indigenous peoples, the detainees and the PWDs - by ensuring that their right to suffrage is respected and upheld."
Jimenez said Sarmiento is among the prime movers in the formation of the Inter-agency and NGO Network on Empowering Persons with Disabilities; the Inter-agency, NGO and PO Network on Empowering Indigenous Peoples in the Electoral Process and the Inter-agency and NGO Working Group on Detainee Registration and Voting.
He said because of the Inter-agency's efforts, 23,890 PWDs were able to register as voters as of May 29, 2012, in addition to the 345,000 registrants.
The spokesman added that Sarmiento is fully supportive of measures in Congress that calls for the institutionalization of special polling places for PWDs, senior citizens and pregnant women. The Comelec has in fact, drafted the rules and regulations for the purpose, which was approved by the Inter-agency at the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) Office last June 6, 2012 attended by 45 PWD stakeholders.