[lg policy] Philippines: The right of the deaf to their language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 17 14:14:39 UTC 2011

The right of the deaf to their language
By: Liza B. Martinez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
9:08 pm | Friday, September 16th, 2011

Department of Education officials recently announced in a forum that
hearing-impaired children will continue to be taught using Signing
Exact English (SEE) instead of Filipino Sign Language (FSL). They also
said that the existing DepEd policy calls for “using the oral method
from preparatory to Grade 2 and total communication from Grades 3 to 6
using English and Filipino Language,” and that “SEE shall be used in
all subjects taught in English.”

SEE and other manually coded systems of English are visual
representations of spoken English. Natural visual languages like FSL
have their own unique syntax and use non-manual signals (of the face
and body) in place of many grammatical features of spoken and written

The DepEd announcement triggered outrage from the deaf community and
its stakeholders and resulted in position papers from the Philippine
Federation of the Deaf, Philippine Deaf Resource Center, Philippine
Coalition on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities, De La Salle-College of St. Benilde: School of Deaf
Education and Applied Deaf Studies and Center for Education Access and
Development, University of the Philippines College of  Education,
Special Education Area, Anthropology Department and UP Layap, and the
170+ Talaytayan MLE Inc.

To resolve the controversy, Alliance for Concerned Teachers  Rep.
Antonio Tinio organized a  dialogue last Sept. 12 between the DepEd
and the Filipino deaf community and its stakeholders. In that
dialogue, Rep. Magtanggol T. Gunigundo, author of House Bill No. 162
(An Act Establishing a Multi-lingual Education and Literacy Program),
read a statement of support for FSL. He pointed out that Department of
Education Order No. 74, series of 2009, clearly states that the
child’s first language should be the  medium of instruction in the
early years. In the case of deaf children, this should be FSL and not
English, or SEE.

The Philippine Federation of the Deaf invoked the rights to education,
language, linguistic identity and deaf culture as stated in Art. 24
and 30 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
(UNCRPD). It “calls on the State, through the Department of Education,
to immediately, effectively and fully: halt the violation of the
rights to language, culture, participation and self-determination of
deaf Filipinos; and institute, facilitate and promote all appropriate
measures to guarantee the full enjoyment of these rights.”

The Philippine Deaf Resource Center likewise called on the state to
recognize the existence of Filipino Sign Language as a true and
legitimate visual language, citing research on its structure,
socio-linguistics, and applications. It also called for the
declaration of FSL as the national sign language in fulfillment of
international commitments (i.e., Salamanca Statement, UNCRPD)
consistent with Art. 5 of the 1997 SPED Policies and Guidelines.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro responded by saying  that priority
should be given to action-oriented measures such as mapping resources
at the regional and division levels, and crafting inclusive programs,
parallel to that of other disadvantaged sectors. He directed the
formation of a small group of deaf and hearing experts to coordinate
with his office regarding the above.

It was evident from the dialogue that the DepEd needs to situate its
understanding of communication and language in the context of
empirical research and not on its own definitions and
operationalization of total communication, and the bilingual goal for
the deaf.

The following notions are also highly questionable: that the sign
language for training and certifying teachers is “formal” sign
language; that the only way to standardize sign language is to certify
teachers; and that FSL is a language that I created.

In this regard, SPED has to re-craft its programs consistent with
local policy and international commitments. To many deaf education
stakeholders, SPED officials as well as the academic teaching
institutions which have granted them their advanced degrees are
seriously disconnected from research and information and from the
progressive reality that education is a basic human right and a
fundamental development goal. They need to be able to overcome their
inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to recognize that the deaf
children they once taught are now educated, experienced adults who are
speaking their mind and asserting their right to self-determination.
Rank, advanced degrees and the ability to hear cannot supplant the
legitimate human experience of the deaf community.

The SPED experience in formal education contrasts with that of the
Bureau of Alternative Learning Systems (BALS) which has actively
initiated training in learning Filipino Sign Language. Last year in
February, Director Carolina Guerrero requested the Philippine
Federation of the Deaf to hold an FSL Training for Mobile Teachers for
80 teachers from the various regions. The BALS teachers are already
using FSL including areas in Mindanao such as Basilan.

The receptiveness and resolute action of BALS for its teachers to
become fluent FSL signers is because of an unencumbered view on the
ground of the realities of literacy and survival for many isolated,
poor and rural deaf children, youth and adults.  (To be concluded)

Dr. Liza Martinez is one of only two hearing sign linguists trained at
the renowned deaf institution, Gallaudet University (Washington,
D.C.). She is the founder and director of the Philippine Deaf Resource


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