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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Sign Language Interpreters Group announces 5th General Assembly

Heads up Philippine sign language interpreters! The Philippine National Association of Sign Language Interpreters (PNASLI) will be holding its 5th General Assembly from May 15-18, 2019 at Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

This year’s theme is “Beyond Filipino Sign Language Law: Moving Forward“. General election of new set of officers will be held aside from the assembly. This activity will also be in tandem with the 8th General Assembly of Philippine Federation of the Deaf which will also be held on the same date and venue.

For details please refer to the announcement poster below or email the group at philippinenasli@gmail.com. You may also go the our official Facebook page for further announcements. To register for the event, please click on this link: https://tinyurl.com/y7o4e2fv.

Kitakits po tayo mga terps!

PNASLI Poster Announcing the 5th General Assembly in Bohol, Philippines
PNASLI Poster

Interpreting 101: Directional Signing


me interpreting in an sm eventI have been interpreting in a church setting for most of my “Interpreting Life”. Church interpreting is my first love, and still is, while school interpreting/teaching is my passion. The most scary is court interpreting followed by stage/events interpreting while hospital/clinic/doctor’s office interpreting is the most depressing (sigh).

DIRECTIONAL SIGNING simply means “moving from point A to point B.” It’s like going from this place to another place. You are establishing the starting location and moving to an ending location.

signing space
Direction of Signs and Signing Space as modeled by Deaf Moises

You can show a person moving from one place to another by mimicking a “walking fingers” going from your right side to the left. Your audience, in turn sees the walking person going on the opposite; left side to right. Remember that your audience sees you as a MIRROR. The opposite of your signs is viewed. You can also use this by including you as part of the “story”. You can make your walking fingers from your end (putting your hands near your chest) towards any direction.

moving from one place to another
Hand (person) moves from one place to another.

By directional signing, you can show “who did what to whom” through their movement. It shows the subject or the person talking and the act he is doing directing to another place.

For example, if I sign “money” and then I sign “give” starting near my body and moving the sign “give” going in your direction, then I’m signing “I will give you money,” or “I already gave you money.” This is the clearest and the simplest way of signing the action instead of signing each word “I – WILL – GIVE – YOU – MONEY”.

Let’s do the opposite. If I start the sign by holding the sign away from my body and most likely near you (or the person I am talking to), and then move the sign “give” towards me and ends near my body…that would mean, “You give me money.” Again, this is the most understood way of signing the action instead of signing each word “YOU – GIVE – ME – MONEY”.

Now, If I look at you (or an imaginary person I am talking to) and move the sign “give” starting from your position (assuming the person is on your right) and moves to the left, again assuming that there is a person on your left, then I am signing “Give the money to him.”

This “directionality” can be used for many situations which require actions. Here are some examples:

  1.  “May I borrow money?” Direction is from the person you are talking to –> going to you. “You borrow money from me.” is the opposite. You sign “borrow” start near you and goes out to the person you will lend the money to.
  2. Please help me.” Direction is from the person you are talking to –> going to you. “I help you.” moves in the opposite direction.
  3. I meet you/please meet me at…” You hold both index fingers in front of you pointing up, one finger near you while the other finger is far from you. Then the one finger near you moves smoothly toward the one finger far from you.  The index fingers symbolize two persons “meeting each other”. But you cannot limit yourself with just two persons. You can add three or more persons meeting each other by adding more fingers in each hand. So, your five fingers mean you, together with four of your friends will meet him.
  4. Please come in.” You must first establish the location where the person you want to “enter or come into”. If you want to come into your house which is right at your back, then use open hand face up pointing to the person you are talking to, then moving your hand to the direction of your house. It’s a very common gestural sign. Signing “PLEASE – COME – IN.” is a very inaccurate and confusing movement. Do you want the person to go inside (which is the sign for IN) your hands?
  5. Carry…“, “Take…” and “Bring…”. These three verbs are very specific in giving out directions.
      • “Bring” means to carry something towards yourself, or when the person making the request is at the destination.
        “Bring me your bag.” Sign “BAG” or point to the bag if there is one, then open hand face up moves starting from the person you are talking to and going towards you.
      • “Take” means to carry something away from yourself, or when the person making the request is NOT at the destination.
        “Take this bag to Pedro’s house.” Sign “BAG” or point to the bag or hold on to the bag, then open hand face up, then add Pedro’s sign name, then sign house.
      • “Carry” means to move while supporting, either in a vehicle or in one’s hand or on one’s body. Use “carry” when the person making the request is NOT at the destination.
        “Please carry my bag to the car.” Sign “PLEASE”, then “BAG”, then open hand face up going to the direction where the car is located.

Cheers and Happy Signing!!!

 

Ignorance about Filipino Sign Language

The issue of sign language and the deaf community has sparked renewed attention recently in the Philippines. This was after viewing the second State of the Nation Address of our very controversial and unorthodox (talk about all the badmouth words) yet very popular President Rodrigo Duterte last Monday, July 24.

#fslsaSoNA2017
Photo courtesy of Ms. Naty Natividad, current Vice President of Philippine National Association of Sign Language Interpreters (PNASLI)

I was assigned by PNASLI, the national association of sign language interpreters, to do interpreting together with Dean of College of St. Benilde and my “kumare” Nicky Templo-Perez at GMA-7, a regular or “suki”. Actually, it was in GMA7 where I first interpreted in SONA way back in 2010. This year, aside from the local private TV stations, it’s the first time the government TV Channel 4 aired the SONA with inset sign language interpreting. And they were very fortunate to have their interpreting right inside the halls of the House of Representatives itself where the actual action is happening.

However, they did not get their interpreters from the pool of PNASLI people. Instead, they got the services of the Philippine Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (PRID), the oldest existing organization that trains and deploys interpreters in the country. As an alumnus and a proud product of PRID, I was truly excited that they have participated in such a momentous event. Interpreting in one setting is what I really dreamed of. I have been aspiring that all TV stations will broadcast the President’s SONA using one interpreter.

bamaquino
Senator Bam Aquino (Photo linked from the Manila Bulletin)

But I won’t be dwelling much on that. I would like to emphasize on the recent news coming from Senator Bam Aquino pushing for the Filipino Sign Language Bill in the Senate. He said he was grateful for the sign language interpreters during the SONA because of their efforts to deliver the message of the President to our fellow Filipinos who are deaf. Aquino is the author of Senate Bill No. 966 or the Filipino Sign Language Act, which seeks to declare FSL as the national sign language of the Filipino Deaf and “the official language of the Philippine government in all transactions with the Deaf.” He also mentioned that many saluted or lauded the interpreters for making the sign language available to deaf persons during the two-hour SONA.

It was a really welcoming news item. But then, a handful of people who commented on the news in social media were so distasteful and exposing their ignorance about sign language and its use. Someone even suggested that the Senator should focus his efforts on how he can assist the deaf by putting more wheelchair ramps! Talk about mixed disabilities. Still another guy recommended that the Filipino deaf use the internationally accepted American Sign Language (ASL) so that he can compete globally. Really? Why would the Filipino Deaf need that? Are they applying as Call Center Operators or work overseas? Yet another one opines that supporting FSL is for the sake of Filipino pride and acknowledgment of its existence. Well, what’s wrong with that? He even emphasized that sign language is universal so there’s no need to create a new one. Does he have a concrete basis sign language is universal?

Did you know that Filipinos have different names describing rice, our staple food? We have palay for unmilled rice, bigas for milled rice, kanin for cooked rice, lugaw for rice porridge, tutong for burned rice, bahaw for leftover rice and sinangag for fried rice. You might also be surprised that each of these words has a distinct Filipino Sign Language.

Another distinct difference between ASL and FSL is through fingerspelling. Look at the illustration below.

difference between asl and fsl in fingerspelling.png

I have met people who brag by saying they are well versed in ASL. But when I observed their signs, I can easily distinguish it from Signed Exact English (SEE) or Pidgin Sign English (PSE). So it’s either they don’t know what they’re talking about or they are plain ignorant. (Is there a difference?)

Survey for Filipino Interpreters

PNASLI Interpreting Survey Form

To all my Filipino sign language interpreters, may I encourage you to answer this Interpreting survey form? This survey is being conducted by the Philippine National Association of Sign Language Interpreters (PNASLI). The group would like to get in touch with with all its members soon for the next General Assembly meeting.

You may click on the image above or this link to go the the form. Thank you. 😉

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1PagO5wUcFg-KGx1fFuYOZOOCoeyNvPVj21dgg7FcU8U/viewform

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