Perils of being a sign language interpreter in the PH
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. – Rappler.com
John Pael Ecarma Maunes is a registered nurse and the executive director of Philippine Accessible Deaf Services Inc.