Pushing the Filipino Sign Language

Article excerpt

MANILA, Philippines - As the country celebrates Buwan ng Wika this month, a sector of society that has been lobbying for the recognition of the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) is reiterating its call.

The Filipino deaf community is currently supporting lawmakers, through the help of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Party List representative Antonio Tinio and Rep. Teddy Casino, in passing several relevant House bills to benefit their stakeholders.

Among them is House Bill (HB) 6079 which pushes for the declaration of FSL as the national sign language of the Filipino deaf.

HB 4121, on the other hand, pushes for the use of sign language interpretation inset in television news programs, while HB 4631 is a bill that would give access to sign language interpreters in Philippine courts.

As these Bills gain traction, leaders of the Filipino deaf community are optimistic about the progress they are making.

"Yes, we are very optimistic. The progress has been very tremendous especially this year. The same with FSL, we want the same mother tongue-based instruction in education. There's a lot of research and a lot of work to be done. What's important is we have strong support, we have a strong advocacy. We want to emphasize that the deaf people also need the help of the hearing community in this advocacy," shares Raphael Domingo, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) Center for Education Access and Development (CEAD), Education Access for the Deaf coordinator.


In 1907, the American Sign Language (ASL) was introduced to the Filipino deaf community through the School for the Deaf and Blind, now known as the Philippine School for the Deaf. ASL has since influenced FSL, the Filipino sign language.

"FSL is a unique language. It has its own grammar, structure, syntax, which is different from the spoken language. It's also the mark of identity of deaf Filipinos," explains Mackie Calbay, program coordinator of DLS-CSB School of Deaf Education and Applied (SDEAS) Deaf Advocacy.

FSL is believed to be part of the French Sign Language family, the sign language where most sign languages are derived from, including ASL. But like any other language, sign languages differ depending on its use and the country's culture.

"ASL has a big influence on FSL, which can be traced back to the history of the Philippines. In terms of grammar, there are differences and similarities between FSL and ASL. There are similarities in terms of hand shapes, positioning, hand location, movement, facial expression, and palm orientation. But the conversation and discourse are different depending on the culture. For example here in the Philippines, we have a sign for flooding inside the house, a term ASL does not have because they don't experience it," explains Domingo, who is also a member of the Special Education (SpEd) Council of the Department of Education (DepEd).

He explains that the use of FSL by deaf Filipinos has increased through the years. In 2007, about 60 percent of deaf Filipinos were using ASL while 40 percent used FSL. Today, they recorded that about 54 percent of deaf Filipinos use FSL compared to ASL.


Rey Alfred Lee, president of the Philippine Federation of the Deaf (PFD), says that the Filipino deaf community did not even know that FSL existed.

"A lot of deaf people did not realize that they are using FSL. They know ASL but in reality they are using FSL. …