Can a deaf person be a reliable witness?

I chanced upon an article in Nikkei Asian Review which exposes the misleadings done by hugely popular internet search engines Google and Baidu which forcefully directs us to “floods of advertisements and micro-targeted results” and recommended the use of lesser-known but becoming increasingly popular sites such as ByteDance of China and DuckDuckGo of the US. I got curious about these two alternative sites so I tried them out.

I opened only the DuckDuckGo site since the other one is only for the Chinese market. The screen looks like the minimalist web style of Google.com. But what’s strikingly good is what appears at the bottom of the search box which says “The search engine that doesn’t track you.”, the tagline “Privacy, simplified” and the popup box advising us that “Your data shouldn’t be for sale.”

I then tried typing “deaf Philippines”. I was pleasantly surprised that the top search was rightfully one of the first non-profit foundations that work to educate impoverished deaf in Bohol, followed by the Philippine Federation of the Deaf Wikipedia article which I created in January 2008 using my Wiki name Jomanila. Our school for the deaf landed in the top 20. However, I was a bit shocked that the hugely popular and limelight hogging college in Manila is nowhere to be found in the top 50 results.

Deaf on a witness stand
Deaf on a witness stand (not the actual event)
Google Photo courtesy of http://www.interpretereducation.org

Enough of the long intro. I like to focus on the article in Philippine Star Online Edition that did not even rank among the top results in Google which I only discovered in Duckduckgo. It’s about a case of a “deaf-mute” (a term used in the article which I so much disdain) person who became an eyewitness in the rape-slay of a single lady, Erica. Here is the entire story as narrated by a famous Filipino lawyer, Atty. Jose C. Sison which appeared in his column on June 27, 2017:

Deaf-mute witness
Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) – June 27, 2017 – 4:00pm

All persons who can perceive, and perceiving, can make known their perception to others may be witnesses in cases being tried in court. But are deaf mutes competent witnesses? What must be shown so that they can qualify as witnesses? These are among the issues resolved in this case of Erica.

Erica was single and working as a bookkeeper in a Credit Cooperative located in Manila. On the first working day of the year, she reported to the office bringing with her a camera to take pictures of her officemates for souvenir before going back to her hometown on the occasion of their town fiesta. At 5 o’clock, she left the office bringing with her the camera and P3,000 cash money for expenses in the celebration.

She arrived at about 7:30 pm and alighted along the highway about 300 meters from her house. Across the highway was a waiting shed with four persons inside, namely Andy and his brother Tony alias “Baba” because of his elongated chin, Rolly, alias “Boy Tattoo,” and Sergio, alias “Pipi” because he was deaf mute. The four just came from a beer house where they had a drinking spree with four other barkadas since daytime. They left when they got drunk going to a rice field. On the way, they pass by the waiting shed where Andy and Rolly took “Pidol” cough syrup.

Then Andy, Tony and Rolly left the shed when they saw Erica on her way home along a road which was very dark and silent and surrounded by tall trees and grasses. They asked Sergio to leave already. But instead of leaving, Sergio hid behind the bushes and trees, and thus saw the ensuing incident.

He saw his three barkadas caught up with Erica, as Rolly pushed her while Andy got her shoulder bag. Then Tony and Rolly pushed her against a tree and stabbed her several times in the neck. At this point Andy also joined the two and stabbed Erica until she fell down. As Erica was lying on the ground, Rolly pushed the bottle of cough syrup into her private parts aided by Tony. Then Andy hugged Erica who was still alive and resisting the assault. Together, they undressed Erica and successively raped her, starting with Andy, then Rolly and then Tony. As they take their respective turns in raping Erica, the two others were holding her hands.

After raping Erica, Andy took her bag, Rolly got her camera and cash money while Tony got her ring, earrings and watch. Thereafter, Rolly and Tony went to the rice field while Andy proceeded to the opposite direction.

When the already stiffed body of Erica lying on her back was found by the rice field owner the next day, and upon investigation by police investigators, the Provincial Prosecutor filed two Informations for rape with homicide and theft against Andy, Tony and Rolly.

Andy was arrested and arraigned first and pleaded not guilty. His brother Tony went into hiding upon learning of Andy’s arrest and was apprehended only one year later in the course of the trial. He also pleaded not guilty. But Rolly remained at large.

On five different dates of trial over a year, Sergio the deaf-mute eyewitness narrated what he saw through sign language interpreted by an expert who had 22 years of teaching experience in a school for the deaf, exposure in TV programs and had testified in five other previous court proceedings. So after trial, the RTC found the brothers Andy and Tony guilty as charged despite their denial and alibi that they were at home when the crime happened.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Andy and Tony contended that the RTC should not have given full faith and credit to the eyewitness account of Sergio who had no formal schooling in a special school for deaf mutes so that conjectures, surmises and inconsistencies in his testimony could not be discounted. They also attacked his character, claiming that he is a drunkard and a drug addict with appending case of rape.

But the SC still affirmed the RTC decision. The SC said that deaf mutes are NOT incompetent witnesses as long as they: (1) can understand and appreciate the sanctity of an oath: (2) can comprehend facts they are going to testify on; and (3) can communicate their ideas through a qualified interpreter. In this case, the interpreter is definitely qualified with a special training and education for interpreting sign language. The imperfections or inconsistencies in Sergio’s testimony do not detract from the credibility of his testimony much less justify its total rejection. What is material is that he personally knew the accused, was with them when the incident happened and had personally witnessed the rape-slay and theft three meters away from the scene. He did not waiver in the identification of the three accused despite the rigorous cross examination and positively pointed to them as the persons who raped and killed Erica and took her personal effects.

The character of Sergio and the pending case against him does not disqualify him from becoming a witness. For the test to measure the value of a witness’ testimony is whether or not such is in conformity to knowledge and consistent with experience of mankind.

The defense of alibi must yield to the positive identification of Andy and Tony by Sergio. Moreover the place where the crimes happened was just ten to fifteen minutes away from the residence of Andy. In the case of Tony his flight should be taken as an admission of guilt. There was also conspiracy among the three accused.

So they are really guilty as charged and sentenced to two death penalties upon each of them for the rape with homicide and imprisonment of 6 months to 2 years, 11 months and 10 days for theft (People vs. Tuangco et.al. G.R. 130331, November 22, 2000)

As per the narration, Sergio, the deaf witness did not attend formal schooling so he is what we call low-verbal deaf. He is also a hearing-friendly person judging from the buddies he accompanies with. But he is also very strong-willed, and unafraid to tell the truth even though the criminals were his barkadas and even if they counter-charged him.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines affirmed that a deaf person can become a competent witness so long as he/she believes in the sacredness of oath, understands the facts and, most importantly, CAN COMMUNICATE HIS THOUGHTS THROUGH A COMPETENT SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

So, to answer the title question, YES, the deaf can be a reliable witness. Oh, I just wish I knew who the sign language interpreter is so that I will hug him/her so tight and shake his/her hand congratulating his/her awesome skill and dedication. I hope he/she reads this article and contact me. 🙂

You can read the original article on the Philstar Online Edition page.

  • – Highlights and all caps mine
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On Deafness and Depression, [Deaf Youth Commits Suicide]

A couple of days ago (January 20), the entire Filipino Deaf Community (as shown in their Facebook reactions) was shocked when a twenty five year old deaf committed suicide by jumping off JR Borja Bridge in Cagayan De Oro City at around 9:55pm of January 19. Ryan C. Lutching, a former student of La Salle University – School for the Deaf in Ozamiz City and an active member of a deaf group in Mindanao, left his smartphone on top of his red bag turned on showing his suicide note before killing himself.

Facebook post courtesy of Bryan Maglangit Mutas

Brian Maglangit Mutas first posted the incident in his Facebook account. In his photos, bystanders and onlookers were looking at the bridge where it happened. I guess no one was there to save him during that time. Brian also took pictures of the messages that Ryan posted in his cellphone. Ryan’s body was found two days later (January 21) washed away at Macabalan river shore.

Facebook post courtesy of Ms. Sarah Osorio Talibong

Messages on his phone indicated that Ryan was apparently talking to his “Bro” or brother and that he is ending his life because he is undergoing depression. He said that he misses his father who already died and he felt alone because his relatives and other family members never talk to him. My deaf friends told me that only his father knows how to sign. Ryan also mentioned that he got jealous of his male friends who already have relationships and they even teased him for being single.

Ryan mentioned depress three times.
Ryan mentioned “depress” three times (Only two appeared here because the other one was in the previous page.) Note: I blocked the names of other persons mentioned to protect their privacy.

Strangely, Ryan posted this cryptic image on the same exact date he died one year ago. Some of my deaf friends informed me that it was his father who died on that day.

Ryan posted this in 2018 on the exact same date he committed suicide.

Earlier this month, Bryan Velasco, a Filipino rock band Razorback’s drummer fell to his death from a condominium. He was 41 years old, and it was an apparent suicide. Velasco jumped from the 34th floor and landed on a canopy. There were no other injuries. The drummer went live on Facebook and filmed his death Wednesday morning.

What is depression?
According to American Psychiatric Association, depression is…

a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.

A few decades ago, depression is commonly associated from being sad and grieving from say a death of a loved one, losing a job or ending a relationship. But now, scientists have found out that it is a medical condition that distinguishes it from just “being sad”.

Symptoms of a Person undergoing Depression

You or your loved ones show signs of depression if they are:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood for a couple of weeks or more
  • Losing interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
  • Having changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Losing energy or increased fatigue
  • Increasing in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Having difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thinking or mentioning about death or suicide

What about depression and deafness?

One reason why I made a post about this is to document the incident because until today, mainstream news media hasn’t picked it up. The other is to inform everyone that depression is a serious condition that affects everyone, including deaf people. Studies have found that deaf individuals have higher rates of psychiatric disorder than those who are hearing, while at the same time encountering difficulties in accessing mental health services. These factors might increase the risk of suicide. However, the burden of suicidal behavior in deaf people is currently unknown.

Deaf people are more vulnerable to depression and suicidal tendencies because:

  1. Most of them do not have someone to talk to. As what happened to Ryan, his father passed away and he was the only one he can communicate with. Other members of his family do not know sign language. Lack of communication results to low self-esteem, delays in learning and isolation.
  2. It’s hard to share or talk about how a deaf feels or thinks because they have a very small community. The deaf community is a very tight group. Everybody knows everyone. Telling one of them about your problem is like announcing it to the entire “nation”. This sometimes lead to embarrassment, negative branding and even becoming an outcast from the community.
  3. Many hearing people don’t know or understand Deaf culture. Some of them still perceive that deaf people are dumb (i.e. reading a broken English sentence), does not care about others (i.e. not mingling with other hearing people) and moves their hands and face like a fool (i.e. doing sign language and facial expression). These misconceptions often lead to teasing, discrimination and abuse.

I always love being with deaf people. I have no deaf relatives. But I have grown to love them for nearly 30 years. They are fun to be with and they basically “enjoy life”. But deaf people are primarily human beings who react from negative situations and emotions. They are more vulnerable to stress, mood swings and misery because of limited interaction with other people.

Sadly, as far as I know, there is no existing “Depression Helpline” in the Philippines that focuses on deaf people. The reason for this probably as enumerated above, is lack of trained counselors/medical personnel who can sign fluently and understand deaf culture.

If you know of any deaf person who is experiencing depression, try to…

  • Tell him to talk to a friend, family or someone he can trust.
  • Encourage him to visit a doctor and talk about his problem. The doctor will be able to check his mental health and discuss his next step. Remember to book an interpreter.
  • Be a friend. Learn sign language. Understand deaf culture.

Doing this may save his/her precious life.

Deaf VS Hearing, anyone?

Although some hearing people have occasionally bully deaf people because they feel that they are more superior than them. Deaf people on the other hand tend to exhibit their “pity-me” effect to the hearing people in order to get concessions. But pitting them against each other is counter-productive and does not promote rights-based approach.

I got hold of this image from a Facebook page of my friend who got it from another friend. I felt amazed at how the image-maker compared the Deaf from the Hearing. Here it is:

Image

I don’t know where he got this view. Probably he is deaf.  But I believe most of the statements of comparison are true. Based on this I can summarize that deaf people are more open, blunt and straight-to-the-point while hearing people are more subdued, respecting and mind-your-own-business type.

Dear readers, what do you think?

Maria Lena Buhay Foundation: To talk and be heard in the silent world

Very rare do I post schools for the deaf using oral method of teaching because as you may have already noticed, I lean towards the sign language side. But for this one, I really need to repost it because of the wonderful work their institution have achieved these past 25 years. This article written by Angelo Garcia which was posted on the Manila Bulletin is about the first and one of the few successful oral schools in the Philippines, Maria Lena Buhay Foundation. Enjoy! 🙂

MUSIC TO THEIR EARS — This group of musicians (above) may look ordinary but they are all deaf.
MUSIC TO THEIR EARS — This group of musicians (above) may look ordinary but they are all deaf.

MANILA, Philippines — After almost 25 years, Maria Lena Buhay Memorial Foundation, Inc. (MLBMFI) founder and executive director Leticia Buhay proudly says that the school’s graduates are now productive citizens of society, despite their hearing impairment.

“We have a graduate who is now an entrepreneur and owns a chain of coffee shops. Another one, who graduated as valedictorian, now teaches at a prestigious school. Another one has his own graphic design company,” Buhay shares.

This success, Mrs. Buhay says, can be attributed to the fact that they have taught their hearing-impaired students how to speak. MLBMFI is the first oral school in the country for the hearing impaired.

“We believe that every hearing impaired child has the capacity to learn how to talk. We already have proven that in our 25 years of service,” she says. “For me, it is harder to teach a class of five hearing impaired students than 40 hearing students. Mas mahirap kasi, you have to keep on repeating they only hear the word for the first time, especially the younger level. But as a speech therapist, the moment a hearing impaired utter a word, umaapaw ang aking kaligayahan. That’s what gratifies us all.”

Today, the non-profit, non-stock school has become one of the most valuable institutions in the field of special education.

FULL COMMITMENT

MLBMFI was founded in June 1987 in honor of Mrs. Buhay’s daughter, Maria Lena or Lenlen, a Psychology student of Ateneo de Manila University who passed away due to cancer.

A speech therapist, Buhay gave in to the request of her patients’ parents to put up a school where their children could learn how to speak.

“The parents felt that since natututo na ‘yung anak nila how to speak, ayaw na nila sa sign school. Ayaw din naman nila sa regular school kasi there are 40 or so students baka mag lag behind. So they needed something special for them,” she recalls.

After planning, the school initially had 10 students and three teachers, including Mrs. Buhay. But by the end of the school year, the school already had a total of 26 students. Year after year, they added grade levels until they completed all levels from pre-school to high school. Since it was a non-profit school, they had to rely on sponsorships, donations and the tuition fees from students. Those who couldn’t GARCIAafford receive tuition subsidy.

When things became too busy and the responsibility too heavy for her, Buhay started getting sick. She was advised to close the school if she wanted to live longer.

“My children asked me to stop. But no, my commitment is there and I enjoy what I was doing. So I resigned from my job as a university professor to devote my time to these children. I was 50 then. I bargained with my children, we could open the preschool and grade school and call off the high school. Kasi the time when they reach Grade 6, nakakapagsalita na sila, many of them were mainstreamable. So lumiit na enrolment namin,” she recalls.

Today, the school caters to only 25 students from preschool to Grade 7 since they limit the number of students per level. They also accept full and partial scholarships, depending on the available sponsorship.

OPTION TO TALK

Mrs. Buhay says that one of the school’s main accomplishments is that they have shown parents of children with hearing impairment that there is another option other than just sign language.

“We made people aware that there is another option to help hearing-impaired children and not just to help them how to sign. In other words, there is an option to learn how to talk,” Mrs. Buhay explains.

She says that it is important that when a child is diagnosed with hearing impairment, he or she should immediately undergo speech therapy. The first five years of a child’s life is the most important period in speech and language acquisition.

“Normally a child at six months can already babble. But if after that period, the child has not spoken, there is a cause for alarm already. Speech is talking by ear. If the sounds do not enter your ear, if you do not hear anything, you will not be able to speak. That is why the children have hearing aids to magnify the sound. So parents can bring the child to a diagnostician for immediate intervention,” she advises.

Since MLBMFI students know how to speak they are able to communicate properly and they can do almost everything a hearing child can do. In fact, the school has its own rhythm band. A group of hearing impaired students can play different music instruments!

“We develop them holistically. We develop them socially, we bring them around town. We teach them basic skills like cooking. And they enjoy other activities like playing and listening to music,” she says.

MORE OPPORTUNITIES IN THE TALKING WORLD

Mrs. Buhay says that although the students may not speak clearly like hearing people can, the important thing is that they can be understood. One of the advantages of a speaking person with hearing impairment is gaining employment. Since they can communicate, they have bigger chances of being employed.

“If a hearing impaired person is able to talk, his chances of being employed will be greater. There are certain organizations and companies that employ hearing impaired,” she says.

“We have to accept it that this is a talking world. A great majority of us talk, only a few sign. If they are able to talk, it is easier for them to be mainstreamed and take their place, normally, in society where everybody talks. Your chances will be greater,” she says.

She admits that she doesn’t know what the future holds for them but because of her dedicated teachers and staff, she is sure that MLBMFI’s legacy will continue, even for the next 25 years.

Deaf people working in Mindanao killer mines?

Happy New Year everyone! This is my first post for the year 2012!

Last Wednesday, I again accompanied my graduating students to vital government agencies to secure personal documents which they will use in applying for jobs after they graduate. MCCID has been assisting its graduating students in getting government documents for many years now.

Our first stop was getting their authenticated birth certificates from the National Statistics Office (NSO). I briefed them beforehand that I would only be there to escort them to the office and occasionally provide them some tips on how to fill up the forms. But actual applying for it would all be theirs to experience, including falling in a very long line.

landslide in a mountain in compostela valley provinceSo while waiting for them inside, a twenty-something guy approached me as I was giving instructions to my students in sign language. He taught I was also deaf so he signed to me. Surprised, I signed in return. I introduced myself politely although I hinted that he is also a hearing person. When I asked him if he can hear, he nodded. That was when we started introducing ourselves “normally”.

He begged not to disclose his full name. Being a Jehovah’s Witness exposed him to the deaf and sign language. He was at the NSO to get his birth certificate as part of the requirements in his job application.  When  he mentioned he was from Compostela Valley in Mindanao, I immediately asked him if there are deaf people working in the gold mines there. I want to know because of the recent news wherein a landslide in that province killed more than 30 persons. He claimed that there are at least five unschooled deaf adults toiling in the mines. He knew them first hand because in their religion, they are very faithful in doing house-to-house visitations to the deaf people. He was able to minister to some of them even for those who don’t know how to read and are unfamiliar with sign language. He felt sorry for them because their superiors don’t give them equal pay as compared with the regular mine workers even if they are exposed to the same dangers.

My next inquiry was if there were deaf workers who died in the recent landslide. He replied that there weren’t any deaf casualties out of the more than 30 persons who wasted their lives. This is a relief. But it’s still tragic that people, even those who cannot hear, must expose themselves to potential dangers just so they get a meager amount for their daily sustenance. I hope that the government would learn from this lesson and not to allow them to go back working in those danger zones.

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