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.

Have you forgotten about us?

This is a repost from the Philippine Daily Inquirer written by Roberto S. Salva. He is the executive director of the Catholic Ministry to Deaf People Inc. Contact him at babisalva@gmail.com. You may view the entire article here.

A reminder
By Roberto S. Salva

LAST MONTH, in a forum on human rights organized by the Australian Embassy and the Commission on Human Rights, one of the deaf invitees posed this question to panel presenters: “Have you forgotten about us?”

By “us” the deaf meant Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

The forum moderator shot the question down. She suggested that further questions should be confined to the topic of that particular panel discussion. The topic, the last of two, was on the challenges of prosecuting human rights cases. There were only eight minutes provided for this topic’s open forum. The earlier panel topic was on press freedom and the killing of journalists.

The deaf person who asked the question may have wondered why she was there at all since neither disability nor minority rights were part of the agenda. Among the presenters, only Catherine Branson, president of Australia’s Human Rights Commission, mentioned disability rights. She gave it equal importance with the human rights issues that were in discussion.

There is no doubt that the deaf person shared the nation’s concern over the relentless culture of impunity in the country. Disability, though, has never been a disturbing issue in the country. There are PWDs among us but we have for the meantime managed to put their concerns on hold and rendered their citizenship token attention. They are only a small group—merely 10 percent of our country’s population—of politically unorganized people. And we do not have the resources yet.

But the concerns of PWDs, some of which they brought to the forum, need to be genuine concerns of the country’s majority. The lack of resources does not diminish the rights of around 9 million Filipinos.

Indeed, development and human rights go hand in hand. Now, the lack of development is our excuse for our disregard of the rights of some groups like the PWDs. But, it is precisely this disregard of those rights that perpetuates our state of underdevelopment and further escalates poverty in the country.

We cannot expect, for example, that the almost 4 million children with disabilities not in school would eventually contribute positively to our nation’s growth. According to the Special Education Division of the Department of Education, barely 80,000 children with disabilities were enrolled during the school year 2004-2005. This is only 2 percent of the estimated total number of children with disabilities.

PWDs find it harder to share in the task of nation-building because the nation is still shut down to them. Government institutions, even hospitals, are still not accessible to wheelchair users. Television programs—even news programs—are still not accessible to the deaf.

The Commission on Elections during the recent elections denied the Filipino PWDs’ desire to be represented in Congress. They supposedly do not have a nationwide presence. The party-list law was created for groups like the PWDs. Ironically, before the enactment of the party-list law, PWDs as a sector were represented in Congress.

PWDs do not only find it hard to participate in the nation’s life, they are also not safe. Our police stations still cannot handle deaf persons who want to report a crime. Early this year, a 17-year-old deaf girl was abducted and raped by 10 men. She could not report directly to the police. She also could not file the case directly in court as the language of the court is not her language. True, these institutions can be approached, but not without considerable expense.

There are more PWD human rights concerns. That is why the United Nations came up with a special instrument in the form of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Philippines is a signatory to this. It has obligations. It should be obliged to keep these.

On Parenting, Acceptance and Education

I got hold of this touching story of a 17-year old deaf girl named Micaella while I was browsing Inquirer.net, my favorite online newspaper. The commentary came from Mr. Roberto Salva, executive director of the Catholic Ministry to Deaf People (CMDP).

In May 2009, Micaella died of liver ailment, apparently due to the condition in the Estero where she lived to get an education. She was one of the CMDP scholars. She died in order to get an education. Such a sorry state in our country’s educational system.

According to Salva, Micaella’s deafness caused her family to move from their hut in Bulacan to the Estero beside the Divisoria mall – despite its unhealthy state – so she could be near a school for the deaf. Such was their love and hope for her.

When his father was interviewed by CMDP as part of their process in accepting scholars, he wrote,

“I have big dreams. I hope my two children will finish their studies and hopefully, in the future, we won’t be on the streets anymore.”

Micaella’s parents are unique among hearing Filipino parents of deaf children. They were not disabled by their child’s deafness.

A study was conducted by CMPD concerning the role of the hearing parents in rearing their deaf children. They initiated the study because they observed in families of their scholars the lack of expressed closeness between the deaf and their hearing parents, and the breakdown in communication.

According to the survey results of 151 scholars in May 2007, around 81 percent of the household heads (and 77 percent of their spouses) could not pass the evaluation for Basic Sign Language. Fourteen percent of the household heads, mostly fathers, were not communicating with their deaf children at all, including 3 percent of the mothers.

Many organizations for the deaf like MCCID and CMDP, have responded to this dilemma by offering sign language classes to the parents. Although it is one step closer, learning the language is not enough for them to play an active role in their deaf children’s lives.

Continuing with their survey results, 30 percent of the parents expressed sadness when they discovered they had given birth to a deaf child. Twenty percent of the answers were questions, mostly expressing worries (15 percent) about the future of the deaf children – whether there is one. Thirteen percent articulated non-acceptance, 9 percent hurt, 5 percent fear, 4 percent disappointment, and 3 percent sense of loss.

However, as Salva pointed out, there are parents like Micaella’s who immediately get over their sense of distress and focus on what they can do to help their deaf child. They represent roughly 3 percent of the respondents. The others are able to hurdle their issues only gradually as they see their deaf children grow.

The parents’ acceptance of their deaf children, the calming of their worries, and their pro-active sense with regard to their response to the deafness of their children surface when they learn of the opportunity available to, or the ability of, their deaf children to get an education. Forty-one percent of the parents expressed that. They realized that, except for the inability to hear, their deaf children have the same capacity as hearing children.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to get an education in the Philippines is not accessible to all deaf Filipinos. There are not many schools for the deaf in the country. We still have not even been able to correctly account for all deaf children. This leads us to another question, how many deaf children are there in the Philippines anyway?

A deaf girl from Bohol, photo taken from Idea Deaf

Many of the hearing parents of deaf children are unaware of the educational opportunities for their deaf children and of the need of these children to learn a language, especially sign language, for their holistic development.

I am in unity with Mr. Salva in dreaming of a day when education is accessible to all Filipino children – with or without disability, deaf or hearing, of a minority or the majority, rich or poor.

We dream of a day when families like that of Micaella need not risk their lives along the creeks of our metropolis to be near a school for the deaf.

You may view the complete article here. The Catholic Ministry to Deaf People has been an active partner of MCCID in providing the “Young Adult Health Education Program” for our deaf students since the late 90s. They have also supported some of our students as part of their scholarship programs. I have blogged about their organization and their selfless endeavors here, here and here. Mabuhay po kayo! 🙂

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Deaf People and the Filipino Catholic Faith

Even though I openly profess, based on my previous posts that I am a Born-again Christian and belongs to a Bible Baptist denomination, I hold very high respect for the Catholic Christian faith and their flock. Our country has nearly 80% of the population who follow the Papal authority in Rome. I have many relatives from both sides who are devout Catholics. I even had an Aunt who is a nun. I also had an opportunity to interpret Catholic church weddings although I’m not used to their rituals.

St. Francis De Sales
St. Francis De Sales

After reading the blog of Fr Seán Coyle, a Catholic priest serving the deaf people from Bacolod City in the island of Negros Occidental, I found out about St. Francis De Sales the Patron Saint of the Deaf and Hearing-impaired. It was very much an interesting read because, in 1605, St. Francis took care and gave education to an indigent young man named Martin, a deaf-mute from birth. The man came almost daily to a house in Roche, France, where Bishop de Sales was staying, to ask for alms. He was a strong young man fit for all kinds of work, and the Bishop’s housekeeper often allowed him to help her in payment for the Bishop’s generosity.

I have not met Fr. Coyle personally because of our difference in religious affiliation. But I would definitely like to meet him if given a chance. He has made much remarkable missionary works for the deaf people in Bacolod. He truly is God’s man especially for those who can’t hear. 🙂

In the research made by Dr. Liza Martinez and Mr. Rafaelito Abat, it was the Spanish priest Fr. Ramon Del Prado, who arrived at the island of Leyte who first used sign language as a method of teaching catechism and to administer the sacrament of baptism to the deaf.

Fr. Sean Coyle photo link from his Personal Blog
Fr. Sean Coyle photo link from his Personal Blog

A recent newspaper article wrote about a legend in Binondo, a district in Manila with predominantly Chinese immigrants, which revolved around the venerated image of Santo Cristo de Longos, an image of the crucified Christ. It was said to be found by a deaf-mute Chinese at the site of an old well in the barrio of Longos in Binondo.

The Filipino Deaf has greatly benefited from the works of the Catholic missions. They often hold a yearly national congress on deafness since 1989 and provided sheltered homes and centers to indigent deaf people in the provinces. Many Catholic churches nationwide celebrate mass in sign language.

During the late nineties where deaf fraternities became so rampant and went out of hand, the Catholic Ministry to Deaf People spearheaded the campaign to re-educate the warring groups by providing them sports and spiritual activities. I was personally involved in those activities because back then, MCCID was one of those hit hard by the violence made by these factions. I became one of the facilitators together with Sis. Joy Cristal and Prof. Tess Buenaventura. Both of them are currently connected with DLS-College of St. Benilde School for Deaf Education.

The Catholic Laymen’s Association of the Deaf (CLAD) was formally created in 1998 as the official name of the deaf community in Immaculate Conception Parish of Marikina City. Its objective is to form an association of deaf individuals that espouses the Catholic faith. It was established to foster unity among deaf individuals, to promote the Catholic faith among the deaf by setting good examples, to promote spiritual, moral, and social values to serve group advocacy in the promotion of the general welfare of the deaf and to help in the empowerment of deaf individuals.

Those movements eventually brought peace and spiritual guidance among the deaf group. To all my Catholic brothers, Godspeed! 🙂

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Deaf education in the Philippines, my retrospect

Philippine deaf education symbol
Since our country is currently celebrating a week-long event making people aware about deaf and deafness, methinks it’s appropriate to share with you how deaf activities stirred up suddenly these past two decades. I’ll call this era the fourth wave borrowing the term coined by Dr. Liza Martinez and Mr. Rafaelito Abat in their research paper.

Before I continue to raise some eyebrows out there, I should say first that I don’t claim I’m in authority on this. I’m a fairly new entrant in this advocacy because I only became involved in 1991. However, I have been one of those who were blessed to witness this sudden resurgence of attention over the cause of the deaf in my country. And considering that deaf education here dates back more than a century ago with the establishment of Philippine School for the Deaf in 1907 and the formation of Philippine Association of the Deaf in October 17, 1926 by Pedro M. Santos, the first and only deaf pensionado to the United States, my contribution is but a tiny dent on this long and arduous time line.

Based on my interviews and personal association with some of these remarkable people, the highlights of the history during the pre-fourth wave era are:

The strongest fuel that ignited this rapid interest this last two decades is the in-depth study and growing support for Filipino Sign Language and Filipino deaf culture. Strong advocacies generated by the newly formed Philippine Federation of the Deaf (1997) and the Philippine Deaf Resource Center (2001) have made credence on the need to recognize the indigenous language of the Filipino Deaf.

Now what better way to propagate these fuels than to funnel them through the radical and forward-thinking minds molded by newly-established post-secondary institutions to their adult deaf students.

The fourth wave started with CAP College School for the Deaf (CAPSFD) when it opened its doors in 1989. As part of the family of College Assurance Plan Group of Companies owned by Atty. Enrique Sobrepena, CAP SFD was created because of his desire to assist his deaf grandson Eric attain a degree course in an all-deaf school. They offered the first non-mainstreamed, non-sectarian, pure deaf degree programs and accepted their first deaf faculty (Julius Andrada) for higher education. The idea of Filipino Sign Language was first discussed and defended in the classrooms of CAP SFD while at the same time, the Department of Education dismissed it by simply calling it a bastardized American Sign Language. They also introduced the bilingual-bicultural approach of education with emphasis on deaf culture, a system which was taught by the school’s first director Ms. Rosalinda Macaraig which she learned from her studies at Gallaudet University. Ms. Macaraig is a former teacher of SAID before heading CAP SFD and currently a full-time instructor at Gallaudet. In effect, CAP SFD pioneered tertiary non-sectarian deaf education.

Although Miriam College started offering a certificate program for the deaf as part of their outreach for SAID graduates at almost the same year as CAP SFD, I don’t consider them the first. This is because back then, they only offered a mainstream program. It means deaf students sit on the same class together with majority of hearing students. I remember my brother used to teach computer subjects there. He told me that in one of his class, there is an interpreter sitting in front of two students while he lectures in front of the majority.

Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation – LCCD and Bible Institute for the Deaf also offered college programs. But theirs are ministerial, Christian evangelism and pastoral in nature.

De La Salle – College of St. Benilde, a well-established hearing school, followed in 1991 by opening their School for Deaf Applied Studies (SDEAS). Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf came in third in 1993. Soon enough, few universities and colleges all over the country followed by offering mainstreamed programs and special education (SPED) centers sprouted in nearly every first class province. Deaf associations started to proliferate. There are also specialized deaf individuals that formed a common group like deaf artists, deaf painters and deaf sports clubs.

Companies also began to notice the deaf’s employment potential. Major firms like Lamoiyan Corporation, Jollibee Food Corporation and Bench Clothing Apparel now maintain deaf workers. Even Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took notice on the deaf’s employability by hiring a few of them in her staff.

Now for my reaction, after watching the recent docu-film Silent Odyssey which showcases deaf history in the Philippines, I noticed that there was no mention of CAP SFD. There was not even a passing-through scene of Mr. Andrada who was one of the successful products of LCCD and took his MA at Philippine Normal University, was the two-term PFD President, a deaf pastor of the biggest deaf congregation in Metro Manila, the first deaf college teacher, now its Deaf Coordinator, and a champion advocate of deaf rights. Even his hearing wife Mrs. May Gasataya-Andrada, a former principal at LCCD, high school teacher at PSD, a highly regarded FSL interpreter among the deaf community especially in court cases and now the Registrar of CAP SFD was not interviewed. I guess the filmmaker failed to make a thorough research on this. She did not give an accurate and fair treatment to the whole sector.

After learning sign language at PRID in summer of 1991, my first teaching assignment for the deaf was at CAP College. At that time, I juggled my teaching load between the deaf and hearing students at University of Santo Tomas. After a year, I decided to focus with teaching the deaf and became a full-time computer instructor at CAP SFD. It is in that school where I met the finest and most talented deaf graduates produced in the country like Dennis Balan, a professional photographer and Ervin Reyes, a multi-awarded web designer.

I totally admit that I got most of my information regarding the deaf at CAP SFD. These ideas gave me the desire and skills in order to put up MCCID. I owe a lot from working at CAP SFD for which I am very much grateful. I also know for a fact that DLS-CSB also got their idea for adding a program for the deaf from CAP SFD after seeing their officials visit the school a few times to learn its operations and attended CAP sponsored seminar-workshops. Some past and present prominent faculty of DLS-CSB SDEAS are formerly CAP SFD’s officials. So, I can categorically say that, if not for CAP SFD, there won’t be a DLS-CSB SDEAS or MCCID that sparked the Filipino deaf’s empowerment.

MCCID was also not included in the film. But I’m not sour graping because probably she does not consider our contribution to the sector that significant. However, I want to set the record straight. Let us give credit to where real credit is due. Marami pong mga tao na naghirap itaguyod ang kapakanan ng mga bingi sa Pilipinas at gumawa ng mga kapakipakinabang na bagay sa kanilang ikauunlad. Hindi lang isang institusyon. This is my own small way of recognizing them. 🙂

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