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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To wear a teacher’s hat or an interpreter’s hat?

If you are a sign language interpreter in the Philippines, there is almost 100% chance that you are also a teacher for the deaf. Although there is a significant upsurge of interpreters due to an increasing number of institutions that teaches sign language lessons, still, the most readily available place to seek their services are in schools for the deaf even though only quite a handful of them is experienced and qualified.

With these conditions, situations may arise wherein you are compelled to wear either a teacher’s hat or an interpreter’s hat. It is certainly not at the same time. But what if you are in a situation where you want to wear both hats or even switch hats in midstream?

interpreter or teacher

A month ago, one of our former deaf teachers in MCCID messaged me requesting for an emergency interpreting for our former deaf student. To protect his privacy and for ethical concerns, I will try not to mention anything that might reveal his identity.

Our teacher explained to me that the student’s mother died a few days earlier and is on the funeral wake. His father died a few years ago due to complications from alcohol abuse. Since the deaf is an only child, his aunt together with his uncle were the ones who took care of the funeral preparations. The aunt and uncle are siblings of his mom. They are also doing the legwork in processing their sister’s benefits and claims. His uncle and his family started living in their house when his father died. The deaf needs to know what is the cause of her mother’s abrupt demise and more importantly, what will happen to his future. Since no one in his family knows sign language, he is at a quandary. He needs someone to interpret for him clearly what was going on. So he requested for my service.

In our school, we conduct personal home visits to the families of our deaf students. As my former student, I am familiar with the situation of his family. When I went to the funeral the next day, I was greeted by his aunt and some of his relatives. She was very happy that I came and very relieved that finally, she can explain to her nephew about his situation through a sign language interpreter. With this, I safely wore my interpreter’s hat.

house visits
MCCID Conducts Home Visits to Families of Deaf Students

Now here is what I gathered. The deaf’s mother was a public school teacher for nearly three decades. So she is entitled to many benefits like pension, burial, funeral, etc. Aside from that, her co-teachers and school staff raised up a substantial amount of money as their contribution to the family. Her former students also collected money as a donation. She was a Philhealth member and has health insurance so her hospital bills were all taken care of. But what is highly significant is that her mother owns a sizeable parcel of land within the center of a highly urbanized part of Metro Manila where they have been residing since the deaf was still in his grade school.

The deaf confided in me that he was very much suspicious about what was going on. In fact, his friend messaged him through FB cautioning him about what his relatives might do with the property and money. He then suggested that the deaf consults a lawyer about it. What’s weird is that when the deaf showed the message to his uncle, he immediately took his smartphone away from him, scolded him while telling him not to believe whoever is advising him. I sensed that his relatives want to keep him in the dark.

At first, his aunt wanted to talk to me alone to inform me about the entire situation and requested me just to relay everything to the deaf. I refused. I want the deaf to be present when both her aunt and uncle explain everything. I told her that I was only called there as her nephew’s interpreter and they need to talk directly to him. They were adamant. So I started to talk loudly voicing what the deaf wanted in order for other funeral visitors to hear. Because of that, they had no other choice but to accept the deaf’s demand. We then started our lengthy interpreting session.

I don’t claim that I have vast knowledge about family code and jurisprudence. But with this situation, I believe that it is the child who should be the main beneficiary regardless of his disability. Upon further inquiry, I found out that the mother did not leave any last will and testament. But still, it does not negate his rights as the sole inheritor. Why are they not telling everything straight to the one and only heir of the family? I felt that they were trying to hide something from him.

I was very much egging to switch hats because I really felt that he was being taken advantage. As a teacher, I have the moral authority to give advice to my former student and remind his relatives about his rights which are guaranteed by the state. Besides, I was not expecting that they will pay me for my services which they actually did not. So technically, I can wear the teacher’s hat. But then, I still restrained myself and went there just to interpret. It’s unfortunate but it’s life. In hindsight, did I do the right thing?

Now, if you were in my situation, which hat will you wear?

Government agencies involved in implementing the FSL Act

Several days ago, September 11 to be exact, Philippine Senator Salvador “Chiz” Escudero proudly twitted about a very good news regarding the passage of Filipino Sign Language Act (FSL). He announced that,

The Senate version of the Filipino Sign Language bill was adopted by the House of Representatives last night sans a bicam. I thank our House counterparts and all those who worked hard for the passage of this bill. I hope PRRD will sign it and be enacted into law soon.

To clarify the twit, in the Philippine legislative system, both the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House) will create two separate bills on the same topic or issue. Then both houses will study their own versions of the bill in first, second and final reading. Once they reached that stage, then they must present the two bills in the Bi-cameral Conference Committee (bicam) which is composed of selected members of both houses. They would then consolidate or unify the two bills in order to come up with one version. Afterwards, the “final” version will be presented to the current president, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) for signature in order for it to become a law of the land.

Now that the Lower House adopted the Senate version, then there is no more further delay in the process. After more than a decade of painstaking research among the deaf community, debate and even strong opposition from the schools teaching the deaf, the government through the Department of Education and even the general public who are basically ignorant about the situation of the deaf, the bill has finally reached this crucial stage.

As the final version is already on the President’s table, I want to make a simple analysis on the roles and responsibilities of each individual government agency that was mentioned in the “law”. Here is the list of specific national government agency and the summary of task that it must do in order to implement the “law”.

  1. Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (ChEd) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) – They are required to coordinate with each other on the use of FSL as the medium of instruction in deaf education. FSL must be taught as a separate subject in school curriculum for deaf learners.
  2. Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) – This agency is assigned to use alternative assessment procedure in the licensing of Deaf Teachers.
  3. University of the Philippines (UP), Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWK) – They are responsible in developing guidelines for the development of training materials in education of the deaf for use of state colleges and universities as well as teachers and staff.
  4. Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWK) – With the involvement of the deaf communities, they are tasked to establish a national system of standards, accreditation and procedures for FSL interpreting
  5. Supreme Court, Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) – Their duty is to create a national system of standards, accreditation and procedure for legal interpreting in FSL. They must also make sure of an availability of sign language interpreter in all proceedings involving the deaf.
  6. All government agencies with deaf workers – They are encouraged to use FSL including the conduct of training seminars for their co-employees.
  7. Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and National Council for Children’s Television (NCCT) – They are tasked to require TV stations to have FSL interpreter insets in news and public affairs programs. They must also participate in the promotion of FSL in all other broadcasts.
  8. Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) and Philippine Commission on Women (PWC) – They are involved in making an annual assessment on the implementation of the law.

Even though their task may be mentioned in motherhood statements within the sections of the act, conspicuously missing are the following vital government agencies:

  1. Department of Health (DOH) – Although the entire Section 8 of the act is devoted about the health system, only the state hospitals and other government health facilities are given the responsibility to ensure the access of FSL interpreters for deaf patients. Probably the framers of this “law” do not see a need to involve the topmost department since all government hospitals and even barangay health centers are under DOH.
  2. Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – Ever since the plight of Persons with Disabilities have always been a social welfare concern, the DSWD has played a lead role in implementing programs and services for them. However, their agency is not taking any active part in this act. It was only mentioned because their agency employs deaf people.
  3. National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) – Deaf people are considered as Persons with Disabilities. NCDA is the one and only national government agency tasked to formulate policies and coordinate all activities concerning disability issues and delivery of services to the sector.  Although the House of Representatives version mentioned them as one of the agency tasked to formulate guidelines in the development of training materials for government employees of specific agencies, they are removed in the Senate and final version.  It is ironic that a national government agency serving the sector does not play a significant role in a law concerning the sector.

Although this is about language and its use, it is hoped that the three agencies mentioned above would still continue to participate in making the “law” implemented by everyone. DepEd was specified five times in nearly all sections while KWK or the Commission on Filipino Language in tandem with UP appeared four times.

The FSL Act which has eighteen (18) sections is titled “AN ACT DECLARING THE FILIPINO SIGN LANGUAGE AS THE NATIONAL SIGN LANGUAGE OF HIE FILIPINO DEAF AND THE OFFICIAL SIGN LANGUAGE OF GOVERNMENT IN ALL TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING THE DEAF, AND MANDATING ITS USE IN SCHOOLS, BROADCAST MEDIA, AND WORKPLACES”.

Signing it into a law is a very big leap towards recognizing the language commonly used by the Filipino deaf which has been suppressed by so-called “deaf educators”. However, much still needs to be done in order to fully implement the law.

To the Deaf Sector, “Congratulations and here’s to better times ahead! Cheers!!!”

 

 

Senate approves on final reading the Filipino Sign Language bill

The Senate today passed on third and final reading a bill declaring the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) as an official medium of instruction and mode of communications in the country to promote the rights of deaf persons.

Senate Bill No. 1455, sponsored by Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, was approved with 20 affirmative votes, zero negative vote and no abstention.

“Let’s establish the official language for the deaf, the Filipino Sign Language, to promote the right of the deaf community in the Philippines to their identity, expression and communication,” Aquino said.

“The use of sign language in the Philippines dates back to 1596. FSL has since evolved to be an effective visual language that is well-researched, based on Filipino culture and history, and even incorporates indigenous elements,” he added.

Senator Nancy Binay, who introduced and co-sponsored the measure, explained that there was a need to identify and adopt standards that would guide the development and advancement, especially in communication, of the deaf and hard of hearing.

“The State should recognize and promote the use of sign languages embodying the specific cultural and linguistic identity of the Filipino deaf,” Binay said.

Binay said the bill would ensure that Filipinos who are hard of hearing are able to exercise their right to expression and opinion without prejudice to their condition.

Under the measure, FSL would become the medium of instruction in educating deaf Filipinos. Specifically, the bill would require that the FSL be taught as a separate subject in the curriculum for deaf learners followed by schools and educational institutions.

Similarly, FSL would be used as the official mode of communication used by government in all transactions involving the deaf, through FSL-trained interpreters in various government offices.

“This would be particularly helpful in our courts and police stations so that deaf Filipinos have a fair share in our justice system,” Aquino said.

He added that the bill would make FSL the “means of interpretation in broadcast media, delivering news and information consistently to the deaf community.” Once enacted into law, the bill would task the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWP), the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and other stakeholders to establish a national system of standards and accreditation for interpreting FSL in media.

Other co-authors of the bill are Senators Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Joel Vullanueva and Juan Miguel Zubiri. (AYA)

Source:

Author: Senate Press Release

Date Published: 28-August-2018
Link: Senate of the Philippines Official Website

You may download FSL Senate Bill 1455 in PDF format here.

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!!!

 

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