ANC Gives the Deaf a Voice Through Sign Language Interpreters

When the sign language interpreters of “Chief Justice on Trial: the ANC Coverage” first encountered the term ‘subpoena duces tecum’ and other obscure legal terms, they had to text colleagues who were off-duty and scrabble for the nearest dictionary to find out their meaning and devise ways to interpret them.

Nine weeks into the legalese-heavy trial, the interpreters-instructors from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (CSB-SDEAS) and Philippine National Association of Sign Language Interpreters (PNASLI) still get on with their preparation practices before they sit on-air at 2 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays – bring a dictionary, consult with lawyers and the Deaf community, and on their off days, meet and discuss difficult legal phrases and the best ways to ‘sign’ them.

Two sign language interpreters take turn every 20 minutes on a single trial day in interpreting the argument among the prosecution and defense panels and the senator-judges live. Off-camera, a Deaf coordinator, a hearing coordinator – and at times, a legal consultant – synergize to ensure legal technicalities are correctly interpreted.

This initiative of ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel, to fortify its uninterrupted coverage of the impeachment trial has spawned wider political participation by making information accessible to the Deaf.

ANC has established itself as ‘the news channel’ that delivers non-stop reportage of news events including the groundbreaking blow-by-blow coverage of the Former Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada’s impeachment trial, which is a first on Philippine TV media.

ANC managing director Ging Reyes expressed that the sign language initiative serves as another milestone for the news channel and recognizes the Deaf who have a stake in the growth of the country.

Catherine Joy Villareal, an instructor at CSB-SDEAS and one of the interpreters, said the team has garnered significantly excellent reactions from the Deaf community in provinces and even Filipinos abroad.

“We get to perform our roles, however little, in this historical event. Our goal is to serve the Deaf community for them to be able to be aware of what’s happening and for them to have a voice. They participate in what’s happening through us and through ANC’s efforts,” she said.

ANC first incorporated sign language insets during the airing of President Benigno Aquino III’s 2010 and 2011 State of the Nation Addresses. Following positive feedback on these efforts, the country’s first and only 24/7 news channel once again tapped the CSB-SDEAS faculty to make sure the Filipino Deaf community is not left out on the historic hearing.

Beyond this initiative to engage Deaf viewers, the interpreting team also hopes to promote support for legislations that would require sign language insets in all newscasts and TV programs.

“The effort is significant in a sense that we’re making history not just for the Deaf as a community but for the Philippines as a country. We’re slowly integrating the Deaf into the society and opening opportunities to them,” said Oscar Sherlo Reyes, CSB-SDEAS’ coordinator for Employment Opportunities and one of the hearing coordinators in ANC’s coverage.

Aside from the CSB-SDEAS faculty and PNASLI, sign language interpreters from partner groups CAP College, Philippine Association of Interpreters for Deaf Empowerment, and Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf also volunteer for ANC’s impeachment trial coverage.

Aside from coming up with interpretations of technical terms not initially covered by Filipino sign language, the constant challenge for the interpreters is being impartial yet conveying the emotion and tone of the speaker in the trial to ensure interpretation accuracy. John Xandre Baliza, one of the interpreters and also the coordinator for CSB-SDEAS’s Educational Interpreting Program, said the ANC stint has been a learning experience for them who don’t have legal background.

“Physically and mentally, it’s very demanding, but it’s worth it. It’s not really about giving the Deaf community ‘access,’ but giving back to them what’s rightfully theirs,” he remarked.

The initiative gives access to the Deaf to be informed and involved in an important national issue and it further demonstrates ANC’s commitment to make news and information accessible to the publics through various media platforms on-air and online.

People can watch “Chief Justice on Trial: the ANC Coverage” on cable TV ANC (SkyCable Channel 27) or online streamed live on, while those mobile can get instant updates by following @ANCALERTS on Twitter.

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