By Media Solutions and VERA Files
LEGAZPI CITY— The players tossed the volleyball, dribbled the basketball and served the shuttlecock, each time without speaking or shouting, even in the most intense moments of the game.
"It was like a silent movie," said referee Robert Detera, referring to Second Annual Bicol Deaf Games which, unlike ordinary games, lacked the usual shouts and jeers.
Some 140 persons with hearing disabilities joined the Games spearheaded by the Albay Association of the Deaf, Inc. (AAD) in partnership with the Naval Forces Southern Luzon (Navforsol) held May 11 to 12 at the Navforsol headquarters in Barangay Rawis here.
The players came from the cities of Iriga and Naga in Camarines Sur and the cities of Tabaco and Legazpi as well as other municipalities of Albay. They took part in volleyball, basketball and badminton games.
Before the start of the Games, referees and organizers underwent a thorough briefing on how to handle the players and how to officiate the games.
"This is the first time that we officiated a game among Deaf people," said Detera, a member of the Trained Referees Association of the Philippines (TRAP), who described the task as referee for the basketball game as challenging,
Detera said they came up with a system to effectively run the game by using two flags, red flag for "foul" and yellow flag for "other violations."
"It was a unique learning experience," he said.
Volleyball and badminton appeared easier to officiate as the players were confined to smaller courts, with opposing teams standing face to face while referees were positioned in the middle of the court.
Naga City bagged the trophy for basketball, Iriga City for volleyball and Legazpi City for badminton.
Vanessa Urbantke, a Canadian who serves as adviser of AAD, said more participants turned up this year compared to the first annual games held in Naga City last year. She said they had difficulty contacting deaf groups from other provinces which still needed to be organized.
To reach out to more Bicolanos with hearing disabilities, AAD used its YouTube account albasdeaf where they made use of sign language and subtitles to invite players and graphics to illustrate directions to the venue.
Aside from serving as adviser for AAD, which was established in June 2011 to unite and advance the rights of the Deaf in Albay, Urbantke runs a center for the deaf in Daraga, Albay where she trains young deaf people in sign language and basic livelihood skills.
As of February 2011, the Department of Social Welfare and Development's National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction surveyed persons with disability (PWDs) in poor households nationwide. Statistics for the Bicol region showed there were 691 individuals in Albay with hearing disability, 1,366 in Camarines Sur, 338 in Masbate, 763 in Sorsogon and 394 in Camarines Norte.
The DSWD records place Camarines Sur at second place after Pangasinan as the provinces with the highest population of persons with hearing disability nationwide.
AAD president Arlen Lastrella bemoaned the fact that a big majority of government agencies and officials still do not give PWDs serious attention especially when they invite officials to their activities.
"It is still very hard to coordinate with government agencies and all that they extend to us are mere promises," she lamented.
Lt. Arwin Nieva, chief of the NAVFORSOL Public Affairs Office, said the NAVFORSOL provided the sports facilities, facilitators and officiating referees as well as the billeting of participants inside the camp.
"This is our small way of advancing their rights," Nieva said, adding that many entities still do not realize their obligations in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs) especially those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
The naval officer pointed out that the state itself guarantees the protection of persons with disabilities as a way of empowering them and providing opportunities for their self-growth.
Section 15 of the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons or RA 7277 signed in 1992 says that "the state provide disabled persons with training in civics vocational efficiency, sports and physical fitness and other skills."
In 2008, the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) reported that sports "works to improve the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities in two ways — by changing what communities think and feel about persons with disabilities and by changing what persons with disabilities think and feel about themselves."
The report Harnessing the Power of Sport for Development and Peace: Recommendations to Governments also said, "The community impact and individual impact of sport help reduce the isolation of persons with disabilities and integrate them more fully into community life."
SDP IWG works towards the achievement of development objectives, specifically Millennium Development Goals and peace by promoting and supporting the "adoption of policies and programmes by national governments to harness the potential of sport."
(VERA Files is a partner of the "Fully Abled Nation" campaign that seeks to increase participation of PWDs in the 2013 elections and other democratic process. Fully Abled Nation is supported by The Asia Foundation and the Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")