On Sign Language Interpreting Biases – Part 2 and the “Deaf and HOH Uniteam Group” Story

While the majority of my deaf friends and sign language interpreters declared pink as their political color, a ragtag group of deaf individuals started to form a small group to express their liking for the red and green color as early as November 2021. They reasoned out that it was too difficult for them to understand and keep abreast with the latest news about their preferred candidate and felt so curious as to why they are throwing mud against each other. Words like “bardagulan” which means bullying each other online, “lutang” which I described earlier, “lugaw” or porridge which was popularized by VP Leni when she announced that she gets her campaign fund in 2016 selling this, “magnanakaw” or thief referring to accusations hurled against BBM’s family for stealing money from the government, “tax evader” referring to BBM not paying his taxes where in fact it was only his non-filing of his income tax return and “uniteam” referring to the unity tagline of the BBM-Sara Tandem.

So on November 12, 2021, a small group composed of six deaf people formed Team Deaf and HOH 2022 – Solid UNITEAM BBM-SARA Supporters. Then they silently invited deaf members whom they perceived as supporters of the Uniteam based on what they posted or liked on FB. A day later (November 13), they invited me to join the group after searching for interpreters whom they perceive are friendly to their cause. I gladly accepted their invitation. I believe that the group only wants deaf and HOH as members. But they probably added me so that they can have a mix of hearing people who know sign language. Their members increase gradually.

I wondered why they included me in their group because I’m not deaf. But as soon as I read their exchanges of posts and comments, I realized that they need people who can hear to explain to them the issues hurled against BBM. They observed that the Filipino deaf community who are very vocal with their support for VP Leni have been actively posting their opinions and sharing news and campaign posts about her. Nobody defends BBM. Hard-hitting issues such as disqualification cases, canceling of certificate of candidacy case, non-filing of income tax returns, attacking the validity of survey results, not attending presidential debates, and even very old ones like imposition of Martial Law and ill-gotten wealth were discussed. They have been hearing the side of the accusers. What about the side of the candidate being accused?

Even though I sporadically post election-related content on my wall at the start of campaign season, I was a silent supporter. But since this group is exclusively for BBM, I posted explainer content such as elaborating on the survey results within which our candidate is consistently leading; his stand against the terrorist CPP-NPA; COMELEC’s decision on disqualification cases filed against him; fake and edited images of crowd rallies; wounds and cuts from his hands while shaking hands to people during caravans, and infrastructure projects made by his father which are still being used. They gladly appreciate it.

Screenshot of one of my explainer post content about survey results.

I got so excited when one of my very skilled deaf students, Naser John Magbanua, designed campaign images and frames using fingerspelling. I requested him to change his designs by using the Filipino Sign Language Font created in early 2000. He did and it was more creative and totally deaf-centric.

BBM-Sara Deaf Uniteam Image with Filipino Sign Language Font
BBM-Sara Deaf Uniteam Supporter Frame with Filipino Sign Language Font

Can deaf people feel the interpreter’s bias?

As I mentioned in part 1, I remained inactive in interpreting for the deaf except for the CNN Philippines Presidential Debate. I was not even invited to do inset interpreting for TV campaign ads of candidates. I did not interpret any established news programs and docu-news. So my political preference was not exposed to the deaf’s scrutiny.

Now, what about my other sign language interpreter colleagues? Although I was not actively monitoring their sign language interpretation on TV, in fairness to them, I did not see any significant change in their “tone” when news about other candidates they don’t endorse are being broadcast every time I read their signing. However, I’m not deaf. I don’t have that special sense that something is off that a deaf person can “see and feel”.

I read from exchanges of comments, that the special Philippine Deaf Election 2022 Facebook Group has generated accusations and counter-accusations that sign language interpreters are “allegedly” being biased in favor of their preferred candidate. Some even participate in arguments by answering them which led to the group admin stepping in to moderate.

This deaf group also observed that almost all major campaign rallies of VP Leni often have organized sign language interpreting. They even created the Deaf4Leni&Kiko Facebook group on February 19 which was renamed to Angat Buhay Deaf Group on May 12 and has 206 members, and Angat Buhay Deaf Community Page which has an astounding 59,244 likes although I’m not sure whether all of them are deaf or the majority are just sympathizers! They also created special “Interpreters for Leni-Kiko” FB Frame. One interpreter even became an instant celebrity because she actively participate on stage dancing and acting together with popular singers and artists. Sadly, none that I know of volunteer to interpret for BBM rallies except for one campaigning for his tandem, Mayor Sara Duterte.

So when they actively campaign for their preferred candidate, can the deaf feel their bias when they interpret on news programs and other “neutral” events such as live coverage of debates and TV events? These news programs are supposed to be non-partisan and should give equal exposure to all candidates. But can the same hold true with sign language interpreting?

There is one popular deaf video blogger who I greatly admire for his comedic antics. And he is also very much open about his support for BBM. However, I am inclined not to mention his name here because I don’t want to create more division within the deaf community due to politics unless he permits me to. But I will put here his perceived list of groups of people categorized according to their political preference. Those are his personal observations.

Redactions and “highlight with arrow” are mine.

Bongbong Marcos had won the presidency by a landslide of 31,629,783 votes, or more than 16 million votes ahead of second placer presidential candidate Leni Robredo. Sara Duterte, on the other hand, also overwhelmingly won the vice presidential race in the Congress’ official count with 32,208,417 votes, or a huge margin of 22 million over her closest rival, Senator Francis Pangilinan.

Deaf group attends the Miting-de-Avance of BBM-Sara Uniteam in Paranaque City. Photo courtesy of SMNI News.

Oh about the group I mentioned earlier? It’s now renamed Deaf and HOH Uniteam with 486 active members, five of which I believe are sign language interpreters including myself.

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