Impeachment trial in sign language

Guys I’d like to share with you a very informative and insightful article written by Sir Raul Pangalangan in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He explicitly discussed about the importance of utilizing sign language interpreters in getting the truth and protecting the rights of a deaf person. However, he also enumerated the problems it poses like the interpreting cost, interpreter’s competence and the admissibility of interpreted statements in courts.

Impeachment trial in sign language

10:23 pm | Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

No, this is not about mysterious signals coming from the senator-judges or from the parties’ counsels about where the impeachment trial is going. This is literally about sign language, and the “inset” or the small box that you see on the TV screen if you watch via ANC, showing an interpreter who translates the proceedings in sign language for the deaf. This is a triumph for Filipino deaf rights advocates, but they have a long journey ahead.

According to Dr. Liza Martinez, founder and director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center, sign language insets appeared on Philippine TV for the first time on Channel 5 for the 2010 State of the Nation Address of President Aquino, his very first. That same channel has since sustained these pioneering insets in its early evening, one-hour news program. Another channel, ABS-CBN, has also used sign language insets, but only in their Central Visayas and Davao news broadcasts and not yet for programs that are broadcast nationwide.

There is now a pending bill before Congress, the Sign-language Insets for News Programs Act, that will make these insets mandatory. The existing law, the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons (Republic Act 7277), states the obligation rather softly: TV stations are “encouraged to provide a sign language inset or subtitles in at least one newscast program a day and special programs covering events of national significance.” It classifies “qualified interpreters [for] individuals with hearing impairments” as “auxiliary aids or services.”

The proposed sign-language insets act will convert the Magna Carta’s hortatory clause into a binding obligation. Sponsored by Reps. Neri Colmenares and Teddy Casiño (Bayan Muna Party-List), it will require sign-language TV news insets, noting that the inset is preferred over subtitles or captions because less than 5 percent of the reported 120,000 deaf Filipinos are literate. Last week, Doctor Martinez testified before a congressional committee that the networks should be given a choice between the inset and captions, hopefully to make it more acceptable to the networks and likewise enable them to adapt to the variable literacy levels of deaf people in the Philippines.

Over the years, I have heard of the travails of deaf Filipinos. There was that case about the deaf rape victim who testified about her ordeal through a sign-language interpreter. Her complaint was thrown out on the ground that it relied on hearsay evidence. Hearsay evidence from the rape victim herself? Yup, you got that right. The hearsay rule says: “A witness can testify only to those facts which he knows of his personal knowledge; that is, which are derived from his own perception.” So when the sign language interpreter spoke, the stupid prosecutor asked him: Did you actually witness the rape? These lawyers should be taught that signing is a language in itself, no different from Spanish or Chinese or Filipino. Going by this ridiculous episode, all testimony that has to be translated is intrinsically hearsay!

There was also the deaf man who was invited to Qatar for a training seminar precisely for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). He was barred at Naia by an immigration officer (now under investigation) who questioned the authenticity of his trip because he was deaf. And finally there is that series of cases where deaf passengers were either barred from boarding or off-loaded even after they had boarded their planes.

The mandatory inset for sign language interpreters is merely the first step. The Supreme Court (assuming the Chief Justice takes kindly to the “signing”) should likewise require courts to provide sign language interpreters for deaf witnesses. Without such an order, deaf witnesses can testify only by hiring and paying for their own interpreters. That poses several problems.

First, there is the problem of cost. This is tantamount to putting a price tag on the truth. It would be naïve to think that that price tag wasn’t there from the outset; the cost of litigation goes way beyond the professional fees of the lawyers, and goes into the invisible costs and risks that the victim pays by deciding to go into battle. But one cost, i.e., sign language translation, must be borne by the state if it is to make good on the constitutional guarantee of equal treatment and the international obligation of non-discrimination against PWDs.

Second, there is the regulation of the sign language interpreters themselves. There is the issue of competence. Without a Supreme Court regulation, any Tom, Dick and Harry can purport to translate the “sign” testimony. There is also the issue of ethics. What if the Tom, Dick or Harry is so good he can improve the testimony or, worse, embellish or distort it? We need a system of accreditation to replace the open but loose market that exists today.

Third, the Supreme Court regulation should clear the way, once and for all, for the admissibility of sign language translations. The hearsay rule applies to the witness himself or herself, not to the interpreter who merely translates what the witness says into a language that the court can understand.

ANC’s sign language inset for impeachment trial is historic twice over, and apart from the Constitution and the laws, is just about the most public recognition that, in a trial on public accountability, the deaf Filipino must be heard.

(Today, Doctor Martinez presents the results of her study on Philippine cases of anti-deaf discrimination. It will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the UP College of Social Work & Community Development.)


Hearing the women who suffer in silience

This is a re-post from a Manila Bulletin newspaper article appeared last January 16 written by Genevieve Rivadelo.  The two women featured here are Rowena Rivera and Maffy Gaya, the two remarkable deaf ladies I was with during our recent trip to Sydney, Australia.

Members of AusAID and Philippine Commission on Women peforms the ceremonial 'whistle blowing' that symbolizes the 'Blow the Whistle on VAW' campaign, which aims to end violence against women with disabilities.
Members of AusAID and Philippine Commission on Women peforms the ceremonial 'whistle blowing' that symbolizes the 'Blow the Whistle on VAW' campaign, which aims to end violence against women with disabilities.

MANILA, Philippines — A woman with a disability is more likely to face the threat of being a victim of violence, may it be sexual, physical or emotional, than most other women and persons with disability.

Inequality due to gender differences and the presence of a disability may prevent women with disabilities from recognizing their real worth and exercising their right to be treated with equal respect and dignity as the rest of society.

Last November, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) organized “Eliminate Violence Against Women with Disabilities” participated in by mostly persons with disabilities (PWDs), government representatives, PWD advocates from non-government organizations, and other stakeholders. The highlight of this event was the viewing of digital stories of two deaf women, students of the University of the Philippines, who bravely shared their stories growing up deaf in a hearing world.


As these two deaf women “speak” through their hands, it was clear that they were oppressed in ways that challenged how society views violence, which happens even in our own homes and inflicted by people closest to us.

When people who are supposed to believe in them judge them as inadequate; when they are made to believe that their only value is to be of service to other family members and not as part of the workforce in spite of their skills and competencies; when they are taunted, rejected and simply ignored — these are tantamount to violence against their person and their worth, their feelings of significance in a world that is deaf to their plight.

When the deaf speak, we should listen. They only shout in silence if we refuse to hear their message that rings loud and clear — any form of violence against women with disabilities should not be tolerated.

Sam Chittick, governance adviser of AusAID, reported that in one study of 245 women with disabilities, 40 percent had experienced abuse, 12 percent got raped. This statistic is higher for women without disabilities where only 20 percent experience abuse, and only one percentwould be related to sexual violence.

There may be many other cases of abuse among women with disabilities, but these are not reported. In the case of the deaf victim, aside from the emotional, physical and psychological trauma she has undergone, she may not be able to communicate and express what she has gone through in a hearing world that is most of the time apathetic to the plight of deaf women.

We can choose to hear the deaf speak by supporting AusAID’s campaign to end violence against women with disabilities.

In cooperation with the Philippine Commission on Women, AusAID launched “Blow the Whistle on Violence Against Women (VAW),” an advocacy campaign, both symbolic and practical, to end any form of violence against women with disabilities. Everyone is entitled to a life free from violence and a voice to speak, even if that voice can only be heard if we choose to listen.

Solon urges Supreme Court to Allocate Funds for Sign Language Interpreters

Cong Teddy Casino
A lawmaker today urged the Supreme Court to create and allocate a budget for a court interpreter item under the judiciary who will be tasked to assist persons with disabilities while attending court proceedings.

The recommendation was raised by Rep. Teddy Casiño (Party-list, Bayan Muna) during the recent budget hearing for the judiciary.

Citing the study of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center (PDRC), Casiño said there are unresolved cases involving deaf children and other persons with hearing disabilities due to the absence of court interpreters during the proceedings.

“In one of the rape cases involving a deaf woman that was cited by PDRC, the complainant failed to narrate her story and those present during the hearing could not understand what she was saying,” Casiño said.

Casiño said that of the 53 cases of sexual abuse of deaf women reported over the past eight years; only 14 cases were actually filed in court. None have prospered.

Appearing before the House budget hearing, Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez said they had already met with the officials of the PDRC who assured them of their support.

“Pending the signing of the bill into law we will address the concerns of the group. We were informed that this is happening in many parts of the country,” Marquez said.

Casiño has filed House Bill 4631 instituting court interpreters for persons with hearing disabilities.

Casiño said the bill proposes a system that would be in place so that interpreters for the deaf would be present during government proceedings whether it is a police investigation, court or public hearing.

Citing the data from the PDRC, Casiño said one out of three women is a victim of rape while 65 to 70% of deaf children are victims of molestation.

“Of the 82 cases cited by PDRC, 67% of deaf complainants lodged rape complaints while 32% of deaf respondents were accused of theft. With the high incidence of criminal cases involving deaf persons, there is a need for interpreters,” Casino said.

The PDRC said the only existing policy covering cases of the deaf so far is Supreme Court Memo 59-2004, which requires that an interpreter be provided for the deaf when they testify in court.

However, the PDRC said the memo contains no specific guidelines on the choice and assignment of qualified and ethical court interpreters as well as guidelines on the actual process of interpreting in the courtroom.

The PDRC said there is no organized system for interpreting sign language in court rooms. Judges, lawyers and court staff also lack awareness in sign communication.

Note: This is a repost from the House of Representatives Press Release.

Disability or just culture thing?

After reading the blog posts listed on DeafRead written by Dianrez and Jamie Berke, I pondered that I too share the same perception.

I observed that when a deaf person is being laughed at or chided due to their incoherent and often grammatically crazy written English, they argue by saying, this is part of deaf culture. But when they don’t understand simple written instructions, they excuse themselves by saying they are disabled. We call this situation in Tagalog, “sala sa init, sala sa lamig” or “not fit for either hot or cold”. I am talking from my perspective of a Filipino deaf and not the Deaf in general.

This also holds true when applying for a job. The deaf challenges companies not to discriminate them. They seek for equal opportunities and advocate empowerment for disabled people. But when companies give them the same qualifying exams as with hearing people, they cry foul. They ask for more leniency because they don’t understand directions on how to fill up the test sheet. When hearing people are required to undergo typing speed tests for up to 60 words per minute to pass, the deaf would make “hirit” or bargain for lowering of the limit. They explain that they are a cultural minority and the words used in the instructions are “too deep” for them.

I remember a great while back when I was hired to interpret for a deaf person in applying for a job as a service crew in one of the fast food chains here. During his interview, the officer-in-charge first asked me if he understood plain English. I relayed to him the question and he said yes. Then the personnel started writing his questions on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Both of us were surprised but the deaf appeared worried. He signed to me, “What’s going on? I thought I would interpret for him.”

I told the personnel about the deaf’s apprehension. He explained to me that he wants the answers straight from the deaf’s mind and not to be coursed through an interpreter. That way, he can gauge his level of English comprehension and would assess if he won’t need anybody to interpret for him. I again relayed his explanation to the deaf but it did not sit well with him. He signed that as a deaf, he has the right to have an interpreter. But the officer responded, since they will be communicating through pen and paper, they might as well start doing it. Besides, he defended that the company also gives written interviews to other applicants. Why would a deaf person be treated differently? In the end, the deaf agreed to do it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t called for succeeding tests.

Blogger Dianrez wrote in one of her posts,

Yet, we gratefully accept special considerations such as schools for the deaf, colleges dedicated to deaf students, interpreters, government assistance, and electronic devices, among others. In seeking jobs, we willingly accept any extra help that comes our way. In public areas such as airports and meetings with public servants i.e. police, we tread with unusual care, mindful of bad experiences other people had. Despite what we say, inwardly we seem to accept that we are different and that it means accepting help, if somewhat reluctantly.

Before, the disabled community always invite the deaf group to join in “Special Olympics” or Sports for the Disabled People held in our country. But lately, they refuse to include the deaf in their events. They argued that the deaf would definitely win hands down in sports like track and field, volleyball and basketball. Wheelchaired people cannot compete with the deaf in basketball. It’s an uneven match. However, in our present laws, the deaf is still considered as part of the disabled sector. Now, do we use “culture” here or “disability”?

We use “disability” when we need special accommodations. But we apply “culture” when we don’t want to be treated as such. I’m still at a loss with this. I’m sure many of my readers also feel the same way. 🙂

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