Miriam censors self, won’t say ‘mongoloid’ anymore

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago defends her use of the term 'mongoloid' but tells parents and advocates she will not use it again

THE M WORD. Parents of children with Down Syndrome criticize Sen Santiago for telling her critics during a press forum last week, "Stop molesting me, you mongoloids!" Photo by Joseph Vidal, Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is imposing her own gag rule.

Amid an online backlash, Santiago defended her use of the word “mongoloid” to refer to her critics but promised not to use the term again. 

Santiago responded to comments on social media by advocates and parents of children with Down Syndrome who were offended by her use of the term. 

During a Senate press forum last week, Santiago told those urging her to resign from the Senate, “Stop molesting me, you mongoloids!” Some parties have called on Santiago to step down after she was elected as a judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) but the senator said that she has not yet been called to report to The Hague. Watch video here:

Her statement sparked an online backlash, with the advocates and parents commenting on Santiago’s Facebook page that the word “mongoloid” was hurtful to them and their children. They urged her to apologize.

In response, Santiago wrote the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines Inc (DSAPI) to explain and defend her use of the term. She made the letter public on Wednesday, July 18.

“If there was any public ridicule and vilification, I certainly did not aim it at any PWD (person with disability) but at corrupt politicians,” Santiago said.

The senator added that the association cannot charge her with violating the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability, which penalizes public ridicule of PWDs.

Santiago said that her statement was protected by free speech. She added that the group’s interpretation of the Magna Carta was wrong because what the law prohibited was ridiculing a “specific, identifiable PWD.” 

“Some in your group threaten to sue me in court. They are in danger of committing the crime of threats, also known as blackmail. If so, I would then have the right to sue them for damages, under the law penalizing any private individual who ‘obstructs, defeats, violates or in any matter impinges or impairs’ any person’s freedom of speech.”

‘Imposing self-censorship’ 

While she did not accede to demands to apologize, Santiago said she will not use the term “mongoloid” again in the future.

“However, as a parent myself, I understand that what obviously motivates you and my other critics is parental love and concern. That being so, I extend the hand of friendship. Out of goodwill, I will impose self-censorship, by avoiding in future any word that refers to a person with disability.”

Santiago said that she got the line “Stop molesting me, you mongoloids” from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. 

“No person ever criticized him for repeatedly using the term ‘mongoloid’ in his funny lines. Instead, The New York Times Book Review said about his book: ‘A master work …. The novel astonishes with its inventiveness … It is nothing less than a grand comic fugue.’”

‘Be our ally in our cause’ 

DSAPI Chairman Antonio “Tony” Pasia told Rappler that his group is thankful for Santiago’s letter. Pasia is also a parent of a PWD. 

“We accept her hand of friendship and we are happy with what she said that she will impose self-censorship,” Pasia said in a phone interview. 

Pasia said the group will not pursue any legal action against Santiago and only wanted to raise awareness for the public to stop using painful words to describe PWDs. 

“What is more important is she extended her hand of friendship and maybe she can help us further, she can do a lot for the welfare of PWDs. She can be an ally in our cause.” 

Advocates take exception to the use of words like “mongoloid” and “retarded” to refer to people with Down Syndrome. They believe the words are politically incorrect and derogatory.

On Santiago’s Facebook page, Ferdy Valdivia wrote on behalf of the DSAPI that the senator’s statement implied that children with Down Syndrome are “inutile and no use to society.”

Valdivia said, “I would like to tell you that your behavior using the ‘mongoloid’ word to describe the members of Congress is very unbecoming [of] a statesman like you. First, you have denigrated our children with Down Syndrome by referring to them as ‘unintelligent, inefficient, and unproductive.’”

“This is not the case with our loving, sweet and ‘full of love’ children. They have always shown how much they care for us parents, to their siblings, and to other people. In fact, they manifest more their humanity than ‘normal’ people like us.’” – Rappler.com