Several days ago, September 11 to be exact, Philippine Senator Salvador “Chiz” Escudero proudly twitted about very good news regarding the passage of the Filipino Sign Language Act (FSL). He announced that,
The Senate version of the Filipino Sign Language bill was adopted by the House of Representatives last night sans a bicam. I thank our House counterparts and all those who worked hard for the passage of this bill. I hope PRRD will sign it and be enacted into law soon.
To clarify the twit, in the Philippine legislative system, both the House of Representatives (Lower House) and the Senate (Upper House) will create two separate bills on the same topic or issue. Then both houses will study their own versions of the bill in the first, second and final reading. Once they reached that stage, then they must present the two bills in the Bi-cameral Conference Committee (bicam) which is composed of selected members of both houses. They would then consolidate or unify the two bills to come up with one version. Afterward, the “final” version will be presented to the current president, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) for signature for it to become a law of the land.
Now that the Lower House adopted the Senate version, then there is no more further delay in the process. After more than a decade of painstaking research among the deaf community, debate and even strong opposition from the schools teaching the deaf, the government through the Department of Education and even the general public who are basically ignorant about the situation of the deaf, the bill has finally reached this crucial stage.
As the final version is already on the President’s table, I want to make a simple analysis on the roles and responsibilities of each individual government agency that was mentioned in the “law”. Here is the list of the specific national government agency and the summary of the task that it must do to implement the “law”.
- Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (ChEd) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) – They are required to coordinate with each other on the use of FSL as the medium of instruction in deaf education. FSL must be taught as a separate subject in the school curriculum for deaf learners.
- Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) – This agency is assigned to use alternative assessment procedures in the licensing of Deaf Teachers.
- University of the Philippines (UP), Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWK) – They are responsible in developing guidelines for the development of training materials in education of the deaf for use of state colleges and universities as well as teachers and staff.
- Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWK) – With the involvement of the deaf communities, they are tasked to establish a national system of standards, accreditation and procedures for FSL interpreting
- Supreme Court, Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) – Their duty is to create a national system of standards, accreditation and procedure for legal interpreting in FSL. They must also make sure of the availability of sign language interpreters in all proceedings involving the deaf.
- All government agencies with deaf workers – They are encouraged to use FSL including the conduct of training seminars for their co-employees.
- Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and National Council for Children’s Television (NCCT) – They are tasked to require TV stations to have FSL interpreter insets in news and public affairs programs. They must also participate in the promotion of FSL in all other broadcasts.
- Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) and Philippine Commission on Women (PWC) – They are involved in making an annual assessment on the implementation of the law.
Even though their task may be mentioned in motherhood statements within the sections of the act, conspicuously missing are the following vital government agencies:
- Department of Health (DOH) – Although the entire Section 8 of the act is devoted to the health system, only the state hospitals and other government health facilities are given the responsibility to ensure the access of FSL interpreters for deaf patients. Probably the framers of this “law” do not see a need to involve the topmost department since all government hospitals and even barangay health centers are under DOH.
- Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – Ever since the plight of Persons with Disabilities has always been a social welfare concern, the DSWD has played a lead role in implementing programs and services for them. However, their agency is not taking an active part in this act. It was only mentioned because their agency employs deaf people.
- National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) – Deaf people are considered as Persons with Disabilities. NCDA is the one and only national government agency tasked to formulate policies and coordinate all activities concerning disability issues and delivery of services to the sector. Although the House of Representatives version mentioned them as one of the agencies tasked to formulate guidelines in the development of training materials for government employees of specific agencies, they are removed in the Senate and final version. Ironically, a national government agency serving the sector does not play a significant role in law concerning the sector.
Although this is about language and its use, it is hoped that the three agencies mentioned above would still continue to participate in making the “law” implemented by everyone. DepEd was specified five times in nearly all sections while KWK or the Commission on the Filipino Language in tandem with UP appeared four times.
The FSL Act which has eighteen (18) sections are titled “AN ACT DECLARING THE FILIPINO SIGN LANGUAGE AS THE NATIONAL SIGN LANGUAGE OF HIE FILIPINO DEAF AND THE OFFICIAL SIGN LANGUAGE OF GOVERNMENT IN ALL TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING THE DEAF, AND MANDATING ITS USE IN SCHOOLS, BROADCAST MEDIA, AND WORKPLACES”.
Signing it into a law is a very big leap towards recognizing the language commonly used by Filipino deaf which has been suppressed by so-called “deaf educators”. However, much still needs to be done to fully implement the law.
To the Deaf Sector, “Congratulations and here’s to better times ahead! Cheers!!!”