Perils of being a sign language interpreter in the PH

This article really touched my heart. Not because I personally experienced this, but because in spite of the difficulties and almost thankless job of giving voice to the deaf, we are still here serving them.

It’s really hard to interpret for the deaf here in the Philippines! The process of converting spoken words into signs that the deaf can digest requires a highly technical person with superhuman ability because you need to do everything in split second. But then most of the people out there from the parents of the deaf up to our government would even like to make our services free of charge all because of charity. Try doing what we are doing and see if your brains will get blown out.  Thank you very much to JP, my idol from the south, for exposing the plight of these unsung heroes, most especially my closest friends Liza Presnillo and Ma’am Liway Caldito.

Here is the article from Rappler which I copy-pasted here from the original site.

Sign language interpreting is a back-breaking job, but is also one of the most noble professions in the world. Without interpreters, deaf persons would be disenfranchised.

John Paul Ecarma Maunes
Published 10:30 AM, July 10, 2015
Updated 10:30 AM, Jul 10, 2015

BRIDGING THE GAP. The late Liza Presnillo in one of her many sign language interpretation engagements for TV.

BRIDGING THE GAP. The late Liza Presnillo in one of her many sign language interpretation engagements for TV.

The entire Filipino deaf community is mourning the untimely demise of veteran Filipino sign Language Interpreter Flordeliza Presnillo on April 8, 2015.

She battled breast cancer for nearly 5 years.

She was one of the founding board members of the Philippine National Association of Sign Language Interpreters (PNASLI). She also pioneered the news inset sign language interpretation in Philippine television, as a news interpreter for TV5 since 2011. Her accurate and clear elucidation of information, including even the sarcasm and animated reporting of the Tulfo brothers, has gained her the respect of the Filipino audience.

Before her TV stint, she first became an icon in attending to the accessibility needs of the Filipino deaf community. She served as an interpreter in the academe, social events, national, and international conferences. She also helped individuals get through employment opportunities, medical and legal services.

Presnillo mentored a lot of aspiring signers and junior interpreters by molding them to become exceptional advocates for the rights of deaf persons. She also spearheaded a campaign for the rights and recognition of Filipino sign language interpreters.

She did all these despite her failing health.

In spite her dedication and undying sacrifice for the deaf community, she struggled financially and received no support from the government during her fight against breast cancer.

Same advocacy, same fate

Meanwhile, another advocate, had the same fate. Liwanag Caldito has been a teacher for deaf kids in Pasay for nearly 30 years, and yet, she was easily dismissed from work with only a small retirement benefit.

Her dismissal came after developing Parkinson’s disease. This, after a robbing incident while on board a bus on her way to school.

After losing work, she ran her own non-governmental organization in 2007.

Unfortunately, just a few months ago, she learned she has to undergo an operation for complications in her spinal disc. Caldito had to raise funds because the operation was too expensive.

She received no government support. All the help she got came from family and friends who rendered their services pro-bono.

These are just some painful misfortunes that sign language interpreters have experienced here in the Philippines. They also suffer from prolonged standing, carpal tunnel disorder, varicose veins, back and spinal cord injuries, among other degenerative health disorders caused by stress.

Many of them do not get paid at all times because they are stereotyped as volunteers or charity workers.


In courtrooms, sign language interpreters play a critical role in extracting precise information, especially whenever they handle cases involving abused deaf persons. At times, they may fall prey to death threats from abusers and syndicates. Some don’t receive security measures from the court or police, hence end up protecting themselves. Others are left with no choice but to withdraw from the case.

The most frustrating part is when they end up scrutinized by the court itself. This still happens even if the Supreme Court already issued a memo in 2004, saying that court administrators should approve requests of lower courts for the hiring of sign language interpreters. Contracted interpreters should be paid at least P500 to P1,000 per hour, including transportation and meals expenses per appearance.


People and institutions that benefit from sign language interpreters should ensure that the likes of Presnillo and Caldito are well taken care of.

They should be provided with work benefits like medical and hazard insurance, secured employment, and ample time to rest in between interpretations.

Those who benefit from their services should take the lead in advocating and institutionalizing the rights of interpreters.

Sign language interpreting is a back-breaking job, but is also one of the most noble professions in the world. Without interpreters, deaf persons would be disenfranchised.

Interpreters are known to sharpen their skills well because they are aware of the growing demand of this profession. There are only less than a hundred enlisted professional interpreters in the Philippines.

Unless the Philippine government implements policies and programs that truly recognize the critical role of interpreters by passing the Filipino Sign Language Act, the daily oppression and discrimination of interpreters will continue.

Unless the Filipino deaf leaders, advocates, and other stakeholders take stronger action on this issue, the Philippines will continuously lose modern-day heroes like Presnillo. –

John Pael Ecarma Maunes is a registered nurse and the executive director of Philippine Accessible Deaf Services Inc.


Pope Francis and the Filipino Deaf

Pope Francis together with Filipino Cardinal Antonio Tagle make an "I Love You" sign to the Filipino Deaf in the audience.
Pope Francis together with Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle make an “I Love You” sign to the Filipino Deaf in the audience. (Photo taken from Facebook)

I am not a Catholic. But I’m one with the entire Filipino nation in welcoming the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis! He is such a charismatic and modern yet down-to-earth person. He advocates for openness and respect to others’ beliefs. He connects with everybody. I even made a Facebook post about his statement when asked about his comment regarding the recent attacks in France. He replied, “You can’t provoke. You can’t insult the faith of others. You can’t make fun of faith.”

He is now on his final leg here in our country for a five-day visit (January 15 – 19). He has recently cut short his trip in Tacloban City, Leyte because of the impending typhoon Amang. He will be officiating a mass at the Rizal Park later today.

I won’t be dwelling much about his itinerary because tons of news articles both locally and internationally had already done that. But what I want to highlight is the Pope’s activity touching the Filipino Deaf. Here are the three things I gathered so far:

  1. He made a genuine “I Love You” sign with a sincere smile, at the Mall of Asia Arena where he met with selected families and individuals.

    Here is another image of Pope Francis and Cardinal Tagle doing the "I Love You" sign.
    Here is another image of Pope Francis and Cardinal Tagle doing the “I Love You” sign. (Photo courtesy of Raph Torralba, a prominent Hard of Hearing who works at the Department of Foreign Affairs)
  2. For the first time, the three major National TV networks (ANC for ABS-CBN, TV5 and GMA 7) covered the entire activity with sign language insets. A power house cast of my interpreter buddies were all there to lend their speaking hands in order for the Pope’s message to reach out to the Filipino Deaf. The GMA-7 and ANC telecast were organized by volunteers from DLS-College of St. Benilde while the TV5 braodcast is an ongoing interpreting service of the company. They were all doing a swell job interpreting for the Pope. 🙂

    TV Screenshots of President Aquino's speech in Malacanang during courtesy call of Pope Fancis
    TV Screenshots of President Aquino’s speech in Malacanang during courtesy call of Pope Fancis (FB Photo courtesy of Ms. Rosario Dela Cruz)
  3. One of the three families who had an opportunity to express their gratitude for Pope’s visit comes from the Deaf group representing the Persons With Disabilities Sector. His name is Renato Cruz, a Cathecist and one of my friends from Philippine School for the Deaf and Catholic Ministry to the Deaf People. He was very fortunate to be chosen to personally meet and be blessed by Pope Francis. He told the Pope about his conviction as a deaf person in promoting the Catholic faith to his fellow deaf.
    Rene Cruz gives his message in sign language.
    Rene Cruz gives his message in sign language.

    Pope Francis personally blesses Renato and his family.
    Pope Francis personally blesses Renato and his family.

Truly, Pope Francis is the People’s Pope. He did not disregard nor neglect anyone. He embraced everybody including the Filipino Deaf. Mabuhay po kayo Pope Francis and thank you very much for visiting our country. 🙂

Update Photo:

Pope Francis waves to the faithful riding an iconic Filipino Jeepney converted into a popemobile on the way to Quirino Grandstand to officiate the mass.
Pope Francis waves to the faithful riding an iconic Filipino Jeepney converted into a popemobile on the way to Quirino Grandstand to officiate the mass.

The Deaf, the Bullies and the Defender

Facebook has been a perfect place for people to mingle without being physically present. It gives them (me included) a chance to be or stay informed about the whereabouts of everyone.

However, this is also a place where some people tend to show off to others that they are better and had experienced the finer things in life. That’s when bullying comes in. When they see someone who is not within their level in life, it triggers their senses to make their status known by giving others a piece of their mighty minds.

Enter the Deaf. His name is Mininio Buhat. Here is his FB post:

Deaf's FB PostTo those who are natural English speakers, you might certainly experience a little headache in trying to decipher what the deaf meant. But for those who are familiar with the Filipino deaf’s way of writing, this would be a tad easier to understand.

Now here is where the Bullies come in. This head bully copy-pasted the deaf’s post and remarked insults about his English using our Filipino language while sharing it with others. Then his cohorts posted more insulting messages below.

Twenty one insults, 34 likes and 24 shares later, the post caught the attention of the Defender. Mr. Mike Sandejas, the director of Dinig Sana Kita, a story of a deaf person who was in love with a hearing felt that he needs to also say his piece about the matter. Having experienced the deaf and their culture, he then turned to the “bashers” and explained his side on the issue.

Here is what he aired in FB last August 2:

OF GREAT CONCERN! PLEASE READ THIS CAPTION FIRST! I saw this posted on facebook. I saw a pattern in the misuse of English that I have seen before in my dealings with Deaf people and I immediately looked up Minino Buhat. Yes, the person who wrote it is Deaf and according to Facebook is a student of College of St Benilde which has a School for Deaf. This is where I found my actors for Dinig Sana Kita If you look at the right side of the picture you will see how people have made fun of the English this Person with Disability has used. Deaf people rarely have a mastery of English Grammar because they only understand English as used in sign language which is shorthand in nature. The writing ability sometimes is still being developed while in college. I am outraged by how people are so quick to judge others by their use of English. This is why I made the film Dinig Sana Kita. To open the eyes of hearing people to the world of the Deaf so that they will not be insulted like this. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU WHO POSTED THIS IN JEST! Just the same no one should judge people by their inability to use English, whether Deaf or non-Deaf. Feel lucky that I blotted out your names lest you now be judged the same way.


12,152 likes, 4,288 shares and 339 comments later; Direk Mike received tons of praises defending the deaf.  I was one of those who shared and posted “a piece of my miniscule mind”. Here is my FB status:

Even though I consider this to serve primarily as a wake up call for our deaf friends to polish their messages first before posting them in social media, I also greatly salute Director Mike E. Sandejas for understanding and defending them. Mabuhay po kayo

Then it went viral. As of this writing, here are the videos and articles posted by the mainstream and social media.

They even made a news-reply from the bullied Deaf.


Having been with Filipino deaf education for more than twenty years now, I still find it amusing how they construct their sentences. While I am always on the defensive side whenever they are insulted, I still remind them, especially in my English class, that written English is the water as sign language is the oil. They should never mix the two because it would certainly wont.

To my deaf friends; admit it. Everybody can have access to your post whether you are deaf or not. I’m not saying that we should all be grammar policemen. I am definitely not siding with the bullies.  But at least our dear Deaf should also consider that they have hearing friends who read and try to understand their posts the best way they can. 🙂

Health workers train on sign language

This is a repost from site. Happy Wednesday everyone! 🙂

Health workers train on sign language to be able to service deaf, mute better
By Jocelyn R. Uy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
8:52 am | Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

The Department of Health-National Capital Region announced on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, that it recently finished conducting the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) training among health promotion officers and coordinators in the capital.

MANILA, Philippines—Soon, deaf or mute patients in Metro Manila won’t have a hard time communicating with their healthcare providers.

The Department of Health-National Capital Region announced on Monday that it recently finished conducting the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) training among health promotion officers and coordinators in the capital.
They are in turn expected to train healthcare providers in their local government units, including personnel in local government hospitals, health centers and private clinics, according to DOH-NCR regional director Dr. Eduardo Janairo.

“These trainers will target healthcare providers in their local government units…they will be the one to train and educate these health workers for them to be able to understand the needs and concern of deaf patients,” said Janairo.

The DOH-NCR has already trained staffs of government health facilities and other specialty hospitals in the capital. So far, a total of 52 personnel have been certified as basic sign-language interpreters.
The trainings began late in 2012 in Metro Manila. The FSL workshop will be extended later to hospital personnel in the provinces.

Earlier, Janairo explained that the FSL module include the sign language equivalents of numbers, the alphabet, greetings, time, medical terms, and questions frequently asked in emergency rooms.

It was developed in cooperation and support of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center, University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, CAP College for the Deaf, De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde and the Department of Education-National Capital Region.

DOH records showed 1,112 person with disabilities in Metro Manila. It counted 476 with hearing defects and 95 with speech impairment.

“We should understand that only through sign language can we fully understand the needs of deaf people [so] it essential that we in the health sector should know how to speak their language,” emphasized Janairo on Monday.

He added, “As healthcare providers, we should make our deaf patients feel and understand that their impairment is not an impediment to their growth and development because literacy can be taught in a manner that combines reading and sign.”

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