MANILA, Philippines - A visibly determined Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III laid out his plans for the country in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday. (Read full transcript of Aquino's SONA here.)
Aquino may have stuttered on a few words, but he managed to get his point across. He delivered his speech with much strength and conviction, inspiring the listening audience.
But what about those who are hard of hearing?
Persons who are deaf were not left out when Aquino delivered his SONA to the country.
Through hand movements and facial expressions, John Baliza and 3 of his colleagues conveyed the President's message to those who are deaf while the speech is being aired live on the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).
Baliza, currently the chairperson of the Center of Academics of the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde's (DLS-CSB) School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies, has been working as a sign language interpreter for 9 years.
This is, however, his first time to play an important role in such a historic event.
"It was tiring, but it was exciting to do this for the first time and to be a part of history," Baliza told abs-cbnNEWS.com, adding, "I felt the strength, the firmness that he's really going to do things right."
Baliza said persons who are deaf in the Philippines -- which amount to less than 10% of the country's population -- have always wanted to have more access to news and current events, but are limited by their disability.
"We want to do this (interpreting) continually, not just during big events but also for primetime news," he said.
Sign language interpretation involves the movement of hands, arms and body, as well as facial expressions, to express a speaker's thoughts.
During ANC's SONA coverage, Baliza waited for Aquino to finish 1 to 2 sentences before interpreting the message, making his interpretation more accurate.
This, he said, is called consecutive interpretation.
"If he's angry, I have to be angry. I'm the mirror eh," he said.
Most people may be more familiar with simultaneous interpretation, where words are interpreted as the source talks.
But since Aquino may employ figurative language in his speech, Baliza said this method may not be as useful.
"I have to wait to get the gist of what President Aquino is talking about," he said.
Not yet developed
DLS-CSB currently provides sign language classes for those who are interested in learning the art of communicating with persons who are deaf.
The subject has 3 levels, with each taking 3 and a half months.
"We're planning to open an interpreting program," Baliza said.
Baliza is passionate about their cause -- to provide persons who are deaf with more access to news and information.
He lamented, however, that sign language interpreting is barely considered as a profession here in the country.
"I think interpreting is one profession that's not yet developed here. I don't think it's even considered a profession. Most of our interpreters are volunteers," Baliza said.
He added, "If you want to improve access for persons who are deaf, we should recognize this as a profession."
Given this, the self-confessed Aquino supporter hoped that the new President will address the needs of persons who are deaf -- as well as those with other physical disabilities -- in the country.
"Access to information is a basic right. Hopefully, this government can provide that (to persons who are deaf)," he said.
E-mail the author at [email protected]