My TV Interpreting and Former President Aquino

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III died on June 24. His ashes were laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park today (June 26). I already posted my condolences to the 15th president of my country on Facebook and also changed my temporary profile photo in honoring him.

My Facebook Condolences….

However, I won’t be focusing in detail on the events leading to his untimely demise nor the other activities that followed. What I want to share with you is how, “incidentally”, because of him, we had our first inset sign language interpretation of a President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on national TV in 2010.

I placed the word “incidentally” between quotes because the ex-president never had a hand on this. These are the collaborative efforts of the deaf community, deaf advocates, deaf institutions, and like-minded individuals in partnership with national TV stations. Worth mentioning is the tireless efforts made by the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD), Dela Salle – College of St. Benilde which is one of the pioneer institutions in advocating for this, and most of my colleagues in the interpreting world. It just so happens that he was the president at that time. Although the bill on Filipino Sign Language started to make headway during his presidency, the actual law was in full gear and eventually signed into law on 2018 during his successor’s time, President Rodrigo Duterte.

As I was remembering the former president, I googled photos of me interpreting for him. I was very much blessed that I was chosen by the organizers from Dela Salle-College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB) to be one of the first sign language interpreters assigned for SONA together with DLS-CSB Dean Nicky Templo-Perez. The National Council on Disability Affairs even documented the first sign language interpreted SONA ever, on their official website. The site says,

NCDA lauds GMA7 for its history making streaming news on President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) with sign language interpretation, last June 26, 2010. The Council cheered with thousands of deaf viewers this country’s  first-ever SONA, heard live  by thousands of deaf citizens through a sign language interpreter, thanks to GMA7’s  kapuso  network. Mr. Jojo Esposa interpreting through sign language the State of the Nation’s Address of President Noynoy Aquino.

Excited MCCID Training Director and PWAG President Remberto Esposa Jr. tipped off the Council day before the President’s SONA, that GMA7 News tapped him to interpret the event, most awaited by every Filipino here and in many parts of the world. For the first time, deaf Pinoys, felt one with fellow Filipinos with and without disabilities everywhere in the world, the same great pride over the new President’s humble but noble pronouncements. Loud and clear through the interpreter, they too applauded his marching orders to ban undue use of “wang wang” (sirens) and his call to fight corruption in his inaugural speech. Most of all, his “Kayo ang Boss ko” (You, the Filipino people, are my Boss), got the biggest public cheer of all.

P-noy's SONA with sign language inset.

P-noy’s SONA with sign language inset.

Original article appears here: Pnoy’s SONA Reaches Thousands of Deaf Pinoys Nationwide – NCDA

As I was googling for the actual interpreting on TV, I never found one. Only photos. However, I was very much surprised that I was interviewed by GMA Network, one of the largest media organizations in the country and saved it on YouTube. The interviewer candidly asked me if I was scared to interpret and what I would expect from this activity. I honestly said I was trembling because I don’t know what he would say. Also, the reporter asked what interpreting language I would be using, which I answered in Filipino Sign Language. She followed it up with a query if it is the same as the Filipino language. I explained to her that it’s not the same. FSL is a separate distinct language used by native Filipino deaf users. I added that we are just there to bridge the communication gap between the hearing world and the deaf.

Here is the YouTube link of the said interview:

Behind the Scenes: Sign language interpretation of the SONA

This activity was a trailblazer of sorts because, on the succeeding years, all TV stations broadcast the president’s SONA with inset sign language interpreting. With this, I can probably conclude that this is one of the former Head of State’s impacting legacy. Condolence again to the family of the late President.

Interpreting on a Pandemic Wedding

When this COVID Pandemic started wreaking havoc on our entire world order in February 2020, I decided to refrain from accepting any sign language interpreting services despite a few invitations from my colleagues in the community. This was mainly due to strict government protocols of not allowing people to go out unless extremely necessary, as well as fear of getting infected by this unheard-of virus.

To prove that my decision is right, my household is composed of two octogenarian parents and three deaf friends. They belong to the vulnerable sector when it comes to viral infections. And my fear surely happened when I contracted the dreaded virus this April and unknowingly infected my senior parents. Fortunately, my deaf friends were tested negative on the swab test. And even more, blessed miraculously when we were all healed and received a negative result on the re-swab test by May. Although I was not idle for the entire duration of self-imposed quarantine from 2020 until May, still I declined to accept interpreting jobs including the Capitol City Baptist Church Deaf Ministry where I have been volunteering every Sunday since 1996. It should not be a problem for me because interpreting is done online wherein you don’t need to personally go to the venue. You just set up your mini-studio at home. And with a high-speed internet connection, your video will be streamed together with the event in real-time. Still, I declined.

When this venue interpreting service call came up on May 12, I asked myself, “Should I or should I not?” The call came from Ms. Ruffa Saludo. I don’t know her personally but I know a lot about her deaf Dad Michael. He has been visiting our school since we transferred to San Mateo in 2011 because he can easily pass by it before going to his home. Michael has also been working at the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) for 31 years and has just retired a couple of years ago. As a Utility Personnel, he always took care of us every time we have a meeting and other activities in their office. I have not personally met her Mom Loretta whom I was pleasantly surprised was also deaf. Ruffa, a hearing person, requested if I may be hired to interpret for her Christian wedding with Max Suello on May 22.

Michael, Loretta and Me!

But after hearing that Ruffa wants her wedding to be very memorable not only to her but most especially to her deaf parents, I readily accepted the invite. I pondered, this will be very exciting because it’s my first time after more than a year of interpreting hiatus. Also, I’d like to experience firsthand what a wedding setup looks like following strict government protocol. Here are my observations:

  • The attendees and guests are very limited. Only ten persons were allowed at the venue. So the couple chose a garden wedding at “Delicere” in Marikina City wherein they can conduct the ceremony outside while the reception is done in the cozy restaurant inside the place. There is no need to transfer from one venue to another, say a church wedding and a reception in a restaurant. So only the bride, groom, their parents, the officiating Pastor, and his wife who also represented the principal sponsors, the Maid of Honor and the Best Man. I was the eleventh guest. All the friends, Principals, and Secondary Sponsors were able to participate in an online Zoom conference where they watched the ceremony live. “Social Distancing Protocol” was met.
  • All the attendees and guests wrote on the form on the door before entering the venue. “Contact Tracing Protocol” was met.
  • Alcohol was stationed on almost every corner of the venue including the restrooms. “Wash your Hands with Alcohol or Soap and Water Protocol” was met.
  • All attendees and guests wore face masks except during the wedding entrance parade. On the entire proceeding, everybody has face masks excluding the bride and groom. The officiating pastor from time to time wears the mask. I never removed mine during the entire ceremony even when I did sign-to-voice interpreting for both Michael and Loretta. “Face Mask Protocol” was met.
  • At the reception, we have seated one chair apart. Again, the “Social Distancing Protocol” was met.
  • Hugging, handshaking, and kissing except when the bride and groom doing it, was not allowed. Once again, the “Social Distancing Protocol” was met.
At the Wedding Reception….

Despite the challenges of having restrictions and the unusually few numbers of allowed guests which are saddening on occasions like these where joyful celebrations and parties are expected, still, the event was memorable and sweet. The newlyweds heartily thanked their online guests. The regular slicing of the cake, giving of wedding vows, wine-toasting, and of course, the sweet kissing after hearing the clinging of glasses, were still present. The solemnity and joy in celebrating this “once-in-a-lifetime” event were felt by everyone. Even the wedding souvenirs were timely, a black face mask and small alcohol bottle.

Wedding Souvenir Gift to Guests…

So to the newlywed couples Ruffa and Max Suello, congratulations and thank you very much for breaking my interpreting hiatus by inviting me to do sign language interpreting for your deaf parents. And to Michael and Loretto, congratulations too for having a sweet and loving daughter and from the message of Ruffa “I know that you are strict to me, that’s that only way you express your love to me, always waiting for me, preparing for snacks, for being industrious no matter what, because of your actions, I and my brother are now successful in our rights.

The Newlyweds with their parents, Ruffa’s brother, and me….

Best wishes to the newlyweds!

Side Note: Ever since my colleague and longtime friend Ma’am Tess Buenaventura suggested this to me during my first wedding interpreting experience wherein we were partners, I never accept interpreting service fees. She said that if the deaf bride/groom/parents are close to me, you may inform them that the amount you will receive instead be used as a special wedding gift for them. So after countless wedding interpreting services I did, I never accept payments including this one. 🙂

Online Smartphone Photography Training for the Deaf

As part of the Philippines’ annual celebration of “Deaf Awareness Week” from November 10 to 16, the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) conducted the Online Training on Smartphone Photography for the Deaf.

This activity is one of the latest ones spearheaded by the newly appointed Executive Director and my good friend, Sir Emer Rojas.

The online training was held on November 19 and was published live on Facebook. You may catch the more than three-hour lecture with sign language interpreting by clicking on the video below. Cheers!

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Philippine Census Leaves PWD Count

I count myself as one of those who affirmed with the sentiments of the disability council. MCCID was one of the fortunate places where the National Statistics Office handed over a census questionnaire. I personally read the form and was very disappointed that there was no question there about the number of PWDs residing in the school campus/dormitories.

The situation is truly lamentable because the Philippine government merely guesses the number of PWDs. That is why the services provided for their welfare are very inadequate. Census is very important because this is the basis on how the government will spend the people’s money. When are we going to learn?

Sticker posted by NSO at MCCID premises after getting the result of the questionnaire they provided.

You may view the original article on this link.

Census leaves out PWDs, angers disability council

Philippine Star

Cebu Pacific Airlines, the Filipino Deaf and Me

Me giving the lecture
My Presentation about “Deaf and Travel Sensitivity Seminar”.

Last Wednesday (January 21), I was one of the invited resource speakers of Cebu Pacific Airlines. I have never imagined that I would be doing it! You see, I did many blog posts highlighting their blunders and blatant disregard about the welfare of Persons With Disabilities most especially the Filipino Deaf.

"Nothing about us without us". So I invited my uber-talented deaf protege Moises Libot to be my tandem.
“Nothing about us without us”. So I invited my uber-talented deaf protege Moises Libot to be my tandem.

To refresh everyone’s memory, I made my first blog post about them in April of 2008 when

“Cebu Pacific Airlines refused to board ten deaf passengers on a flight to the world renowned Boracay Island. All ten were already seated inside the plane, when the crew told them to disembark, citing their policy that blind and deaf passengers had to be properly accompanied in order to be treated as regular passengers. If unaccompanied, “he/she may be accepted for carriage provided he/she can take care of himself/herself on the ground and in-flight.”

You may read the entire post here.

Then I made a series of posts about Cebu Pacific’s blatant disrespect on the rights of those with physical impairments here, here and here. Former Senator now Secretary of Department of Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas made a letter seeking for inquiry about this matter. Other bloggers even picked up this incident by creating a stir within the community. I also made a post analysis about considering deaf people as flight risk .

In fairness to the company, they already made policy changes addressing the incident even months after the said incident. But this has been done after the case was filed by the PWD groups. I have no update about the status of the case. Their Guest Services Officer Mr. Ivan Gaw made a reply about this situation. It’s a pity I wasn’t able to meet him during my talk. The participants informed me that he attended the first day seminar.

programwithfront
Program content and front cover where my name was included as one of the speakers.

Seven years later, I haven’t heard any more discrimination incidents. I guess the company has learned its lesson and really made many concrete changes regarding fair treatment for all passengers especially those with special needs.

When the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) invited me to handle the sensitivity seminar for the deaf, flashbacks of those old wounds again went back to my mind. During those days, I was really hoping that the company would invite me to explain to them the needs of deaf people. But sadly I wasn’t given the opportunity…. until now.

Entitled “Demo-Workshop on Handling Persons With Disabilities who Travel”, I was one of those chosen by NCDA to give a lecture about the deaf sector. They also had speakers for persons who are orthopedically impaired, visually impaired and those with intellectual disability. The participants were a good mix of supervisors, officers and policy makers.

When asked about the urgency in conducting the seminar, one of them replied that this was part of the company’s fulfillment of international requirement for their long-haul flights especially in the US where they will be servicing for the first time.

Part of my lecture was discussion about the challenges of deaf travelers which are:

  • Deaf people can’t hear announcements and emergency or special attentions.
  • Deaf people can’t make telephone call reservations or follow ups.
  • Most airline TV monitors and on-board screens don’t have captions or inset interpreting.

Now, how do the deaf people handle these obstacles? Here is what I said:

  • Deaf people can travel without a sign language interpreter!
  • Deaf people can read!
  • Deaf people can communicate through writing.
  • Deaf people are very sensitive to other people’s body movements and gestures.

In other words, “Deaf people can survive all by themselves!!!!”

I even gave them my wish list of having inset sign language interpreter explaining their safety procedures. In their part, they said that most Cebu Pacific fleets are smaller crafts and don’t have monitors. However, they are considering my suggestions once they acquire air crafts with on-board screens.

wishlist
My wish list of Airline Safety Procedure explained in sign language.

 

I believe that conducting sensitivity seminars like this is step in the right direction. However, what I want for the company to do is to embrace a culture change and not just to comply with international requirements. That way every in-flight service crew, airline pilots and even those who prepare the on-board meals would always consider the needs of everyone including those with physical disabilities. 🙂

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