Miriam hit for using 'mongoloid' in speech

Posted at 07/18/12 3:10 PM

She tells down-syndrome group: Sue me, and I’ll sue you

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago extended a hand of friendship to the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines, Inc. (DSAPI) after using the word “mongoloid” in a recent speech, but not without teaching them a thing or two about law.

In a letter addressed to DSAPI President Tony Pasia, Santiago said: “As a parent myself, I understand that what obviously motivates you and my other critics is parental love and concern. This being so, I extend the hand of friendship. Out of goodwill, I will impose self-censorship, by avoiding in future any word that refers to a person with disability.”

She said, however, that the line she used, “Stop molesting me, you mongoloids,” came from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. She said no one has ever criticized Toole for repeatedly using the word “mongoloid.”

The DSAPI took offense to her use of the word, saying it is a violation of the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability (PWDs). The law penalizes vilification of PWDs.

Santiago said if there was vilification on her part, it was aimed at corrupt politicians.

“It is unfair and misguided to charge me with intent to violate the law, when my intent was to emphasize my anti-graft stance. The issue is not really the law, but your
group’s interpretation of the law,” she said.

Santiago said some of the DSAPI’s members have threatened to sue her. She is unperturbed, however.

“They are in danger of committing the crime of threats, also known as blackmail. If so, I would then have the right to sue them for damages, under the law penalizing any private individual who ‘obstructs, defeats, violates, or in any manner impinges or impairs’ any person’s freedom of speech,” she said.

She said the Magna Carta for PWDs is not a censorship law. It never censored the use of the words “mongoloid” or “autistic”.

Had it been intended as such, the Supreme Court would have struck it down as unconstitutional, she said.

Santiago said: “Your interpretation violates the void for vagueness doctrine, which prohibits a law which burdens speech in terms that are so vague that it leaves an individual without clear guidance as to the nature of the speech for which he can be punished.”

Friendship offer accepted

Pasia, in an interview with ABS-CBN News, said his group appreciates Santiago's letter.

"Madam senator, we accept your hand of friendship, we thank you. We belive that you can be a great supporter of the cause for person with disability. We also thank you for the statement of [self-censorship in] not using hurtful words or avoiding words that refer to or may hurt persons with disability," he said.

"Nasaktan po kami, bilang mga magulang ng mga may Down Syndrome, hindi po magandang pakinggan yung salitang "mongoloid." Ang tawag po sa sa kanila ay mga batang may Down Syndrome," he added. "Ang hinihingi lang po namin ay maging sensitibo sila sa mga taong may disability."

"Isang pagkakataon na po ito na maipaliwanag sa publiko na igalang ang mga kapakanan ng mga batang may kapansanan. Tanggapin natin sila sa society at mahalin po natin sila," Pasia said.