SENATOR Miriam Defensor Santiago has filed a bill seeking to provide qualified interpreters to all judicial, quasi-judicial, investigating proceedings and public hearings involving deaf individuals.

“It aims to promote awareness within our legal system as to the duty of the state to provide its people, the marginalized most especially, access to the courts. The right of the deaf to the courts includes the right to adequate and effective legal representation and interpretation,” Santiago said in her Senate Bill 2741.

Of 213 cases involving the deaf, only 24 percent have court-appointed interpreters, 44 percent have volunteer interpreters, 21 percent have unconfirmed appointed interpreters, while 11 percent have no interpreters at all, according to a study of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center.

The same study showed that for 63 cases of unschooled deaf parties requiring a deaf relay interpreter, only 25 percent have been appointed one while the remaining 75 percent have none.

Further, reports said that one in every three deaf women in the Philippines is sexually harassed or raped.

Santiago said such cases and all other, which involved deaf persons, are most unreported primarily because of communication barriers between them and those who are a key to successful prosecution like victim’s family and the authorities.

“If ever the deaf pursues a case against the perpetrator, she or he is met with great difficulty starting from the filing of the complaint and throughout the trial,” the senator said.

“Most of the time, no interpreter is present to explain to the deaf affidavits he or she needs to sign. If there are, they are informal interpreters who do not possess the necessary qualifications to sign correctly and effectively,” Santiago added.

Due to lack of qualifications, interpreters at trials struggle with signing legal jargons.

Some unschooled deaf, meanwhile, require deaf relay interpreters whom the poor and uneducated cannot afford.

Under the bill, Santiago said all courts, quasi-judicial bodies, agencies, and government institutions conducting investigations and public hearings shall hire interpreters for proceedings involving individuals ascertained to be deaf through accepted clinical standards and procedures.

The senator said qualified interpreters should have an endorsement under oath by registered deaf organizations saying he has interpreting experience for at least four years and should demonstrate language competencies and interpreting ability.

A deaf individual, however, may waive the right to an interpreter, the senator said.

Santiago said the concerned body that hired the services of the interpreter shall provide the budget for the prompt payment of interpreters which shall be on a per appearance basis, including travel, board, and lodging, as well as other expenses before the case is filed in court.

She added that qualified interpreters shall be trained in ethical responsibilities, terms and legal concepts under a program to be established by the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice, in partnership with groups like Philippine Federation of the Deaf. (Sunnex)