July 22, 2024

With more than a hundred languages in the Philippines, it is not surprising to know that Filipinos can speak three languages or even more. But have you ever wondered about speaking without articulating any word and utilizing neither the mouth nor the voices?
No, it is not love that I am referring to or what others consider the universal lingo. It is the sign language that I speak about. Although Filipinos are effortlessly multilingual by nature, Filipino Sign Language (FSL) is not common to all.
For 28-year-old Christopher Catbagan, what was never an interest is now advocacy. The first and only interpreter among the government offices in the Cordillera, Christopher is a multilingual speaker of both verbal and non-verbal language.
“Actually, wala akong pakialam no’n sa sign language, pero nagkaroon ako ng desire na maging voice ako ng mga deaf,” he said.
Nine years ago, Christopher started interpreting. Today, he is the newly appointed FSL Interpreter in the Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO) of the City Government of Baguio.
Christopher learned sign language in their church where the deaf community themselves teach. His aunt served as the church’s first interpreter.
“If other people can’t do their part to help the deaf community, ako na merong access sa sign language, triny kong matuto hanggang naging part na rin ako ng deaf community,” Christopher said.
In April, Christopher was appointed as an interpreter of the FSL in the PDAO to translate worded messages for those who are hearing and speech impaired whenever the city government conducts programs involving the deaf community.
A channel for the deaf community and the government is how Christopher sees his job. “So para mas ma-reach out ‘yung mga PWD, kailangan ng mga interpreter para mas maintindihan nila at mabigay ‘yung needs nila para hindi sila naiiwan o nawawala,” he said.
He, however, said Baguio City was a bit late in hiring a sign language interpreter since the FSL Act or Republic Act 11106 was enacted in 2018. This law declares FSL as the national sign language and mandates schools, government offices, workplaces, and broadcast media as platforms to provide deaf Filipinos access to it.
“Ngayon marami pang inaayos, mahirap kasi na kami-kami lang ‘yung nagshe-share ng ideas na hindi pa nanggagaling sa community,” he said.
“We check our mistakes at kung ano pa ‘yung pwede naming ibigay para magkaroon sila ng right connection with the government.”
While his appointment as an FSL interpreter is a starting point for the deaf community, the unspoken truth is that Baguio lagged in enforcing this law. There are six provinces in the region and not one has an FSL Interpreter.
Kaya late lang na nagkaroon ng sign language interpreter kasi late na rin na na-implement ang FSL.” The lone Cordilleran government interpreter added. “Ang mahirap sa ibang lugar na malapit sa Baguio, kaunti lang ‘yung sign language interpreter, sa provinces halos wala.”
The FSL is different from the American Sign Language (ASL), which most of the Filipino deaf community is accustomed to. The FSL and ASL are both visual languages but vary due to the cultural connection attached to language.
The De La Salle University College of Saint Benilde, one of the leading deaf education institutions in the Philippines, stated deaf Filipinos could easily understand the FSL because its grammar, syntax, and idioms are reflective of our culture. The FSL is also a combination of gestures, and facial expressions, along with hand and body movements while the American counterpart is expressed through hand movement and faces. While FSL and ASL have similarities, they differ significantly in grammar.
Learning this newly established sign language is challenging for several reasons. Based on the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, 30,000 households have deaf members, however, a small portion of our population only knows how to use the FSL.
“Karamihan walang alam sa sign language ‘yung mga deaf community so ang ginagawa nila bine-base na lang nila sa action ‘yung turo. ‘Yung iba namang deaf, na liblib ‘yung school nila, ASL ang tinuturo sa kanila sa kasi ‘yun ‘yung may source material,” Christopher said.
He added the city, just like other parts of the country, is left behind in learning the FSL. Both the deaf community and hearing individuals cannot acquire this language for lack of learning resources. Whenever available, it is only through online or one-on-one training. Moreover, books and manuals for language learning need to be purchased for the deaf community, Christopher said.
The insufficient number of interpreters adds to these inaccessibility problems because only licensed interpreters should teach the FSL.
In a world where silence and noise cannot be differentiated, the deaf community can only rely on signs, a language so powerful that can express neither the unspeakable nor the unintelligible.
As Christopher interprets what the deaf community would like to talk about, he is always reminded how the community feels toward their own family members: left out.
Karamihan ng mga deaf community, lagi nilang sinasabi na hindi sila maka-relate sa usapan kapag nag-uusap ‘yung family nila,” he said. “Marami sa mga deaf community ang malayo ang loob sa family nila kasi walang communication.”
Christopher urges the hearing individuals, mainly family members of the deaf community, to put some effort in learning their language. “Hindi naman ‘yung deaf na tao ‘yung gagawa ng way para makipag-communicate sa mga taong walang kapansanan,” he said.
He added the deaf community’s level of understanding is far different from hearing individuals. From experience, he notes shared struggle as the drive behind the community’s close-knit orientation.
Shine-share nila ‘yung struggle na ‘yun sa sarili nilang community kaya sobrang close ng deaf community kasi sila-sila lang nagkakaroon ng communication. Pagdating sa family, less ‘yung communication, Christopher said.
He said learning the FSL is fun and fulfilling. The enjoyable part, according to him, is when you start to connect with their expressions.
“Expressive sila at sobrang na-a-appreciate nila kapag ‘yung mga taong nakakarinig tina-try nilang makipag-communicate sa deaf community gamit ang sign language,” Christopher said.