Nat’l language body under fire from deaf community

Nat’l language body under fire from deaf community

 Nat’l language body under fire from deaf community

SILENCE BROKEN In a rare gathering, members of the Filipino deaf community stage a protest action at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila on Friday against recent steps taken by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino concerning its Filipino Sign Language unit. —contributed photo

MANILA, Philippines — Pointed words about job security and use of public funds are being thrown at the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), or the Commission on the Filipino Language, an issue that has gone public after its deaf personnel and their supporters staged a protest action on Friday.

Currently chaired by Arthur Casanova, the KWF has come under fire from the National Coordination Network of Deaf Organizations (NCNDO), which questioned the impending termination on June 30 of seven staff members under the commission’s Filipino Sign Language (FSL) unit, as well as what has become of its funding.


READ: Speaking to those who can’t hear: Why sign language matters in campaigns


Groups like the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the Filipino Sign Language National Network (FSL-NN) have expressed their support for the NCNDO in demanding answers from the commission. ACT, for one, said it had received word that the KWF was planning to “abolish” the FSL unit.

Hours after the NCNDO demonstration held at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, the KWF issued a statement denying allegations that the P1.8-million fund intended for its implementation of the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) program had been “corrupted,” as the NCNDO put it.

The KWF said it already had discussions with the Commission on Audit about the expenditure of the commission’s 2023 budget.

‘Strained relationship’

“The problem with the budgeting and financing of the agency’s project was caused by the improper planning and monitoring of the program and project commissioner and the administration and finance commissioner,” it said.

In July 2022, the KWF signed a memorandum of agreement with the NCNDO and National Coordination Network for Interpreting to strengthen the FSL practice in the country. Under the agreement, the KWF would create a unit that would assist the commission in promoting and teaching FSL.

During the protest action, the NCNDO called out the KWF administration for terminating the FSL staff members “without just cause.” The staff members were also denied just compensation and their salaries were delayed for almost three months “without just explanation,” the group added.


Patrick Ablaza, senior advocacy officer of the KWF-FSL unit, said they want to find out how the P1.8 million “reserved” for the unit in 2023 was spent.

“Because the P1.8 million went missing, we could not pay the interpreters and a lot of the processes and bills were also delayed,” Ablaza said.

According to the KWF, it decided not to renew the contract of several employees under the FSL unit due to their “strained relationship” with management after they filed “baseless” cases against the commission.

“Although KWF tried to address their grievances on internal matters in the agency, some COS (contract-of-service) staff made moves that created deep animosity in the agency that negatively affected the KWF’s fulfillment of its mandate and peace in the range of staff,” it said.

‘Collateral damage’

The commission also denied that it was scrapping the FSL unit, saying it is mandated under Republic Act No. 11106, or The Filipino Sign Language Act, to implement such a program.

But it disclosed that new people would be hired for the unit. “Currently, due to personnel changes in the agency, the commission is contacting several resource persons for the creation of a new FSL team that will also come from the ranks of the deaf community,” the KWF said.Still, the episode saw voices rising from the Filipino deaf community about the state of its affairs with the commission.

In a separate statement, Liza Martinez, FSL National Network founder and convenor, said that since late 2022 and up to the present, the KWF had “plummeted into turmoil.”

“Allegations of disappearance and misuse of appropriations; reversals of numerous signed contracts; nonpayment of compensation for three months, and recent questionable nonrenewal of contracts of service of two deaf, as well as other hearing staff of the FSL unit have become continuing sagas,” she said.

“The staff of the FSL unit has become collateral damage—a tragedy in particular for the two deaf staff who are in unique (nonteaching) policy-influencing positions found in no other national government entity,” Martinez added.

In apparent response to the points raised by Martinez, the commission said the actions taken by the COS against KWD officials were driven by “internal politics.”

It recalled that a “power struggle” within the commission erupted in 2022 when two KWF commissioners ordered the pullout of five books from school libraries for purportedly being “subversive” and promoting “antigovernment ideologies.”

The books were mainly about the communist insurgency and its peace negotiations with the government.

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“It is very sad that today, even the noble advocacy for the deaf community is being used by some personalities in the commission to promote their personal agendas and distorted reality,” the KWF said.

TAGS: Deaf, Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), sign language

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