They broke barriers of silence to empower the deaf | Inquirer News

They broke barriers of silence to empower the deaf

/ 06:10 AM May 19, 2014

The recipients of the 3rd Golden Hands Awards (from left): Michael Potian, Maria Therese Bustos, Mercedita Cubero, Ana Liza Acebedo, Lily Abiog, Jocelyn Dela Vega, Rossana Vilanueva, Criselda Sabayan, Rudy Vivo, Flordeliza Presnillo, Niño Natividad (representing Natividad Natividad) and John Paul Maunes

MANILA, Philippines—They include accountants, marketing executives, nurses and teachers, among others, all drawn to a common calling. And thankfully their advancing ranks haven’t produced “fakes,” like the one who showed up at the Nelson Mandela funeral and grabbed headlines last year.

The Philippine Association of Interpreters for Deaf Empowerment (Paide) recently recognized the country’s outstanding sign language practitioners through its Golden Hands Awards.


The honors are given to translators who are nominated both by their peers and deaf people, and “who have been doing this service selflessly and passionately for so many years,” said Alfredo Celada Jr., Paide’s chief executive officer.


Now in its third year, Golden Hands honored 12 individuals in ceremonies held on May 4 in Mandaluyong City. They included professionals in various fields who took an interest in sign language after having a profound encounter with deaf people.

A vocation for a few

“This is really a vocation for most of our awardees,” Celada said. “There are still so few of them—I don’t think there are over a thousand in the country today—considering the size of our deaf community.”

One of the recipients is Flordeliza Presnillo of Navotas City, who is also a regular face on TV5 news and public affairs programs. After finishing Accountancy at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 1986, she pursued the profession for several years until an experience in her church work made her veer from her career path in 1994.

“During my ministry as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I came across a deaf person while visiting homes. We gave him magazines and other reading materials, but I was left asking myself: ‘Can he really understand these things?’” she said.

Presnillo then decided to study sign language, initially for use in her ministry. But soon enough, she was being hired as an interpreter for court hearings, workshops and other more formal proceedings.


“And it was not all smooth sailing since you have to learn something new each time (for the different venues and situations),” she said.

Her TV break came in 2010, when TV5 launched its news program “Aksyon TV.” The producers looked for an interpreter at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, where Presnillo happened to be teaching, and “I was picked because I was not so busy back then.”

The studio job proved to be another steep learning curve for Presnillo, who had to process the lines of news anchors and reporters for a national audience. “It was not easy at first, especially when the Tulfo brothers are talking all at the same time,” she said. “But then I got the hang of it. Now I do two hours of interpreting each day for TV5 news programs. ”

The rewards she gets as interpreter are more than financial. “When deaf people sign to me, and thank me for giving a complete and accurate translation, when I see them getting the justice they deserve in court because their voices and thoughts were heard, when they understand what’s being said in the news—that’s where I get fulfillment.”

Moved by friend’s death

Another awardee is 29-year-old John Paul Maunes of Cebu province, who earlier worked as a nurse for five years before dropping everything to focus on promoting the rights of deaf people.

The reason: His best friend, who was deaf, was killed in an accident in 2005.

“Even though my friend was deaf, he tried to live a normal life. To him, deafness was just like a language barrier, and it really did not prevent him from setting his goals,” Maunes recalled.

His friend introduced Maunes to the deaf community and eventually encouraged him to become a sign language interpreter. “I was just not into it at first. Until one day, he asked me to just volunteer, and I was surprised. I didn’t know there were that many deaf people,” he said.

Moved by his friend’s sudden death, Maunes helped establish the Gualandi Volunteer Service Program Inc. in Cebu. From being a mere group of volunteer interpreters, Gualandi has since expanded its mission and partnered with government agencies for a project called “Break the Silence.”

Police ‘deaf desk’

The program campaigns for “deaf culture awareness” and the teaching of Filipino Sign Language especially for courtroom use. The group has also linked up with the Central Visayas Police for the setup of a “Deaf Desk” in police stations to assist deaf people in filing complaints or giving sworn statements.

For these efforts, Gualandi was named one of the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations in the Philippines for 2013, and one of the recipients of the Jesse Robredo Youth and Local Governance Award.

“Once you’ve learned sign language and interpret for the deaf, you get hooked. It becomes an addiction and a vocation at the same time. We hope to continue volunteering for the deaf and working so they can be a totally functional part of society,” Maunes said.

This year’s Golden Hands Award winners also include teachers Lily Abiog, Ana Liza Acebedo, Maria Therese Bustos, Mercedita Cubero, Jocelyn Dela Vega, Natividad Natividad, Criselda Sabayan, Rossana Vilanueva and Rudy Vivo, and sign language trainer Michael Potian.

Finally, recognition

“We’ve come a long way,” Presnillo said. “Before, when deaf people ask for translation services, they always think it’s free. But now, they recognize our effort and the need to give us compensation.”

Celada noted that the government, through the National Commission for Disability Affairs, now helps deaf people with subsidies whenever they need the services of an interpreter.

Still, Maunes observed that much remained to be done for the deaf community to be further integrated into the mainstream. “We hope to see legislation, for example, that would require a sign language inset on all TV programs and (using) Filipino Sign Language. It would really benefit deaf people and help them participate in decision-making processes.”

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“We need to break the silence with them. We need to understand them. While other disabled people have physical barriers, deaf people have a language barrier with us. It’s like they’re speaking a language we don’t know. If we unlock that, the silence will end, and we will hear the noise of their thoughts, feelings, dreams and aspirations,” he said.

TAGS: Deaf, interpreters, Paide, Philippines

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