Even those who cannot hear have the right to be heard. And so the raucous debate on whether to use English or Filipino as the medium of instruction in schools is being echoed in the “silent world.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said House Bill No. 6079, which would declare the Filipino sign language (FSL) the national sign language, was facing stiff opposition from the Department of Education (DepEd) and private schools for the deaf that did not want to throw away their English-based system.
“This matters to all of us and not just to the deaf because this is about equal access of all Filipino citizens. Unfortunately, because of our educational system, they (deaf school instructors) were taught a foreign sign language when we have an indigenous Filipino sign language that traces its roots to the pre-Spanish period,” Tinio said in an interview.
Tinio said the debate on whether to retain the American sign language (ASL) or the FSL was similar to the dispute over the use of English or Filipino as the language of instruction in schools, which had divided the country for years.
“The history is similar. Our teachers were taught with English as the medium of instruction when we have our own indigenous language, which we use to communicate outside our schools,” he said.
He noted that the bureaucracy in DepEd’s Special Education was trained using ASL by US Peace Corps volunteers in the 1960s and 1970s. “That is why they are against it,” he said.
Just like in the normal school setting, Tinio said students of the Philippine School for the Deaf were learning their lessons using the ASL and artificial systems such as the Signing Exact English, or SEE (which offers a literal interpretation of English words), but when they go out of their classrooms, they communicate in FSL.
Shifting from ASL to FSL would only require “retooling” on the part of public and private schools for the deaf.
If hearing Filipinos had hankered for the use of the native tongue to have full access to all aspects of economic, political and cultural life, “the deaf also have the right to be taught in their own national sign language,” Tinio said.
Tinio was accompanied by at least 50 deaf students at the session hall where he introduced his bill.
The young students marched to the House of Representatives from Philcoa, Quezon City, where they earlier held their version of a “noise barrage” with nothing but their gesturing hands and bright faces.
They called for the passage of the measure declaring a national sign language to be taught and used in all official transactions involving the deaf.
Their “noise” came from whistles they blew every now and then to express their support for HB 6079.
Most of them also held up makeshift banners backing the bill in between gesturing in sign language.
Affiliated with the Philippine Federation of the Deaf, the group also stopped briefly at the Commission on Human Rights before going to Batasang Pambansa, where representatives hold their offices.
At the rally, Tinio said the FSL, if adopted by law, would be taught in schools and used in government offices, workplaces, the courts, media, health facilities and other transactions involving the deaf community.
He pointed out that deaf learners had the right to their own culture and identity, too.
“Local and international research says that lack of recognition of a culture’s sign language and limited availability severely restricts or totally impedes the rights of the deaf to form and express their own opinion and participate in society,” Tinio said at the rally.
Tinio said that there was some opposition to the bill, primarily by promoters of the American Sign Language and artificial sign systems such as Signing Exact English.
He also lamented that there was no official or government-sanctioned registry agencies yet for sign language interpreting.