The stenographer, the silent superhero
When discussing stenography, some people reminisce about a mother or aunt who used to scribble on paper (actually, they were writing in Gregg shorthand). Many are surprised to learn that stenography is still an active profession. Stenographers are in demand despite the rise of digital recording, artificial intelligence and automatic speech recognition technology.
In the Philippines, the stenographer works in the judicial court to make official transcripts from the words said in the proceedings. Recently, the most high-profile sighting of a court stenographer in the world was at the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard case in 2022. The judge referred to court stenographer as a “rock star.”
Court stenographers are humble public servants who protect the truth and uncover the perjurer. They are the quiet superheroes who capture and convert the spoken word to text. The 2021 Judiciary Annual Report from the Supreme Court Public Information Office states that there were 689,703 pending cases in the lower courts as of end-2021.
According to the Court Stenographers Association of the Philippines (Costraphil), there are about 5,000 stenographers nationwide to service these pending cases. As of Jan. 19, the Civil Service listed 397 vacancies for stenographers. The number is expected to increase with the construction of additional halls of justice nationwide and retirements.
The first problem hindering the proliferation of stenographers is lack of awareness of the profession. Many schools can teach it to the next generation—it is just that the young ones need information about it.
The second hindrance is the hesitation to invest heavily in the tools and training needed to finish work faster. In the last 30 years, stenography has advanced tools for transcription preparation. The investment is sizable for the steno writers and software or other alternatives, but these tools are used for most of their career. Who is a delivery truck driver without the truck to deliver the goods on time? A stenographer cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence. After all, it is the stenographer that certifies the correctness and completeness of the transcript. A court stenographer is a civil servant that passed the civil service exam and is held accountable to the Civil Service Commission.
The third problem is the replacement of retiring highly skilled court stenographers. Purita Salcedo Garcia retired last December from the Manila Regional Trial Court. Based on the Fastest Fingers contest held at the yearly Costraphil Convention, Purita was the fastest and most accurate machine stenographer. Even at 60 years old, she is skilled with a steno writer, laptop and steno software. She had no backlog of transcripts. Her breed of Filipino stenographers is disappearing.
There is hope in the Philippines for a faster transcript process.
By evaluating the proper tools available and investing in sustainable programs, whether for steno writers or pen writers, all stakeholders should be involved in the process to discuss and thresh out the problems and available solutions – the Supreme Court, Costraphil, schools, Civil Service Commission and vendors. Vendors with experience and knowledge of the realm have been left out of the conversation when maybe they have significant ideas to share.
Not all vendors are evil, greedy, and looking to make a buck. There are those looking to help as part of their share to improve society.
Little is known that schools from Luzon to Mindanao are investing in teaching modern stenography using the latest steno technology for the next generation of stenographers. The question remains whether the graduates will have the equipment and software when they get a job in court.
Hopefully, the next generation will be able to enter a well-equipped position rather than search for job alternatives, such as working for a business process outsourcing, decreasing the number of superheroes in the court. INQ
The author is co-vice chair of the Management Association of the Philippines NextGen Committee and president of Pacific Sun Solutions Inc. Feedback at [email protected] and [email protected]
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