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.)


NVRC corruption investigator found dead

I got this information from the Yahoogroup for disabled persons in the Philippines. This is an email of one of the icons of Filipino PWD advocates, Sir Lauro Purcil to Dean Raul Pangalangan of University of the Philippines. He allowed me to repost his email in its entirety.

Dear Dean Raul Pangalangan, my fellows and friends in the sector around the world;

It took me a while behore I decided to post this tragic event. A friend of the sector Robert Colangoy who have been instrumental in gathering documents to prove alleged corruptions, mismanagements and discrimination within the National Vocational Rehabilitation Center (NVRC) and the Rehabilitation Sheltered Workshop (RSW) in Project 4, Quezon City was found dead and with signs of foul play in a cliff in the City of Antipolo.

The reports given to me by several persons who are aware of this tragedy, Robert Colangoy recently had severe exchanges of words against the suspected head of the agency before that event. For several years, our fellows with disabilities in the nVRC and RSW Complex have been sending information to the National Capital Region of the Department of Social Welfare and Development about continuing serious mismanagement, discrimination and irregularities in the agencies, among them are alleged over pricing of the purchase of a vehicle, irregularities in the repairs and renovations of some parts of the edifices in the complex, and oppressive treatments against employees with disabilities and trainees by the head of the agency and other serious misused of funds and resources. Unethical and unbecoming conducts and conflict of interests in some dealings within the agency are among the complaints sent to the NCR, DSWD. However, until the last meeting with the regional heads, participants in the discussion reported that a cover up is now occuring.

Many of the involved fellows with disabilities connect this tragic death of Robert Colangoy to the events in the agency, since he has been instrumental in gathering the needed documents that will prove these irregularities and alleged corruptions.

It should be noted that since the take over of this head in the agency, the number of trainees in the center drastically decreased, which as expected angered the sector. I am bringing out this tragedy in these yahoo groups so as to put in public records just in case another tragedy happens.

I appeal to you Sir, Dean Pangalangan and all my friends in government to please attend to these issues since we have been trying to get the attention of media and the public for years yet to no avail. I am sad to observe that there is no more reason to trust the NCR DSWD heads, for they have known these cases but no satisfactory and credible actions have been done. In fact, I go along with the observations of most those who have been involved in the discussions and negotiations that they were not taking the sector seriously. The cover up suspicion was further supported even in the last meeting of the complainants with disabilities with the Assistant Directors and other heads of the agency.

I am sending these information to our leaders in the global community since we, Filipinos with Disabilities believe that by ourselves government and even media won’t attend to us if we don’t reach out to the world.

Perhaps, the death of our fellow and friend against corruption, Robert Colangoy would serve as a wake up call to government and media to seriously attend to information the sector is bringing out against anomalies in government agencies serving the sector.

I fervently appeal for investigations be done to reports of anomalies coming out from these agencies. I would even go as far as appealing to the incoming administration to organize a Presidential Committee to Review all government agencies serving the sector and find out the facts about the reported anomalies and to find out if these agencies are seriously taking into their programs and practices the mandates of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which the Philippines has ratified for more than two years hence.

I had talked with people who are directly involved in these issues and they would be willing to speak out to people who truly can be trusted to act appropriately on the information they are ready to bring out, together with the documents.

We are not sure who murdered Robert Colangoy, but the people who knew him and his efforts to gather documents to prove the alleged anomalies in the agency can’t help but connect his death to that courageous moves to openly speak out and do his tasks as all government employees pledged to perform through the Oath of Allegiance of all government employees in the Philippines.

I pray that this posting would serve to get your attention and respond to the call of our fellows at the NVRC and RSW. I am in full solidarity with them and I join them in this struggle.

So sincerely,

The NVRC is one of the programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It is one of DSWD’s community-based and center-based programs and services which are designed to make Persons With Disabilities productive members of society. Among the services they offer in NVRC include livelihood and vocational skills training, job placement and community participation in DSWD’s non-residential centers. I remember many of the deaf students who cannot afford to study in well-established schools attend to their special courses.

If foul play indeed happened here, then this is very tragic and requires an outrage from our sector while at the same time, a more cautious and wary about our situations. We must be very careful especially to those of us who are vigilant in exposing these rampant corruptions from the government.

I appeal for the government not to let the death of Mr. Colangoy go to waste. I will blog about the developments of this situation as often as I can in order for those responsible to find his alleged perpetrators and put him behind bars.

Deaf Persons not allowed to board Cebu Pacific

Cebu Pacific Logo with Discrimination of Disability
Guys, this one is really for the books. I can also categorize this situation under the “Only in the Philippines” tag and presumably a classic case of sheer ignorance.

Three days ago, after I attended the meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs (This is another story.), a nice lady from Autism Society of the Philippines (Sorry, her name slipped my mind.) mentioned about the incident involving deaf persons and was printed in Philippine Daily Inquirer. Although I heard about it from the deaf group, I still want to know more. After a few searches, I got hold of the Opinion Article of Mr. Raul Pangalangan posted only last April 11.

He explained about Cebu Pacific Airlines refusing 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.

The irony was that four members of the group were visiting Americans who had flown all the way to the Philippines on their own, without a hitch, and had demonstrably met the internationally stringent standards of other airlines. They had come to attend the grand centennial of the Philippine School for the Deaf, the oldest such school in the Philippines and Asia. They hadn’t been apprised of the policy in advance. Worst of all, though they were promised a full refund, what they received was short by Php590 (USD13), the agent’s service fee apparently. (In the end, only two of the passengers were allowed to board.)

Now, where in heaven’s vast expanse did they ever thought of this ridiculous policy? Granted that a deaf person belongs to the disabled sector. However, this smacks against the very basic human rights (disabled or not) of freedom to travel which is guaranteed by our constitution.

Let me enumerate why this is an absolutely absurd policy and their situation merits exclusion.

  1. Ignorance of disability. A deaf person is not a dumb person. They do not ALWAYS need a companion to interpret for them. They can read instructions and understand stewardess’ demonstration on basic safety rules and what to do in case of emergency. In other words, THEY CAN TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. In the first place, why were they allowed to board a plane all the way from USA if they cannot comprehend common directions?
  2. Equal treatment is not cost-free. Additional companion entails costs. I remember Philippine Airlines give 50% discounts ONLY to caregivers of disabled passenger but not all airline companies. Republic Act 7277 otherwise known as “Magna Carta for the Disabled Persons” only accords 20% transport discount for PWD on land travels although the new Republic Act 9442 covers all means of travel. Victory Liner Bus Company never provide discounts to PWDs. Why do you hassle yourself by paying for an escort if you can survive on your own?
  3. This policy humiliates the PWD and their right for independent living. Many senior citizens travel alone. Technology made a blind person navigate through the horrible streets of Calcutta, India only with an aid of his global positioning system (GPS) device. It has been known worldwide that deaf people are well-traveled group. Why can’t they travel unconstrained?
  4. Preferential treatments at times lead to a subtle form of discrimination. Wheelchaired people are first to board the plane but are always last to disembark. If they are often seated in front and don’t impede human traffic, why are they last to get off?  How often do we see especially marked “Disabled Seats” in Light Rail Transit (LRT) occupied by other non-disabled people?
  5. Right of inclusion. We want disabled people to be productive citizens in our country. We don’t want them to depend on dole outs and welfare from anyone. Traveling is one way of showing them that they are “one of us”. I remember an insulting suggestion made by a popular Metro Manila government official saying that, “Wheelchaired people must not roam around the streets because it’s dangerous for them. They should always stay at home where they are safe.” Now this comment is way too much. They are not prisoners or are not under house-arrest. Why can’t they travel?

I have always been an admirer of Cebu Pacific because they are true to their commitment of delivering low fare rates and always on time motto. But this is one area where Persons With Disabilities can cry foul and in direct violation of their human dignity.

It’s a pity because Deaf communities especially from affluent countries travel a lot. I’ve met many of them come to the Philippines from as far as UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland. They have the resources and often travel by groups. Our country is a great destination. I have interpreted more than a handful of weddings involving a foreigner and a Filipina deaf. Our deaf people use the basic American Sign Language as a form of communication, an internationally accepted language. We might even attract prospective visitors and increase our tourism revenue if we can tap this potential.

But with this dreadful and discriminating restriction, it is almost like saying, “Hey, we don’t want people like you! You have no room in our country.

This blog post also appear in Withnews:Internet News for the Disabled and the Poor.

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