Sign language interpreting has yet to be considered a legitimate profession in the Philippines. This is because of the absence of a state accreditation system for those working as interpreters along with the limited professional development opportunities and educational programs for aspiring sign language interpreters (SLIs).
On top of that, the majority of sign language interpreters are not seen as professionals worthy of respect within the collective consciousness of many Filipinos. This results in Filipino Sign Language (FSL) along with interpreters being the subject of mockery on several occasions – when then presidential communications assistant secretary Mocha Uson and her blogger friend used sign language as a joke, and also when some netizens joked about how interpreters looked like they were “doing Tiktok.”
FSL interpreters have started working in broadcast media started upon the implementation of the Republic Act 11106. Also known as the Filipino Sign Language Act of 2018, RA 11106 mandates the use of FSL in all Philippine schools, government offices, workplaces, and broadcast media in order to provide deaf Filipinos equal access to opportunities.
Many of the SLIs appearing on FSL insets of major broadcast news either received their training from Benilde SDEAS or work as faculty and interpreters at the College of Saint Benilde. Signing gracefully on television alongside prominent broadcasters may seem like a glamorous job. However, many SLIs in the Philippines, consider interpreting work as a commitment to serve rather than as a mere source of income or yet another accomplishment to add to their professional portfolio.
In fact, receiving payment for interpreting work has only recently become an acceptable practice among Filipino signers. Febe Sevilla, a former faculty member of SDEAS and the Philippine School for the Deaf, has been interpreting since 1993 and has only started to receive remuneration for her assignments in the year 2004.
“I recently learned how it is supposed to be–that interpreting is paid work. I used to be ashamed of that. Whenever they request for my service during events, I would oftentimes not ask for payment especially if they’re asking me to interpret for job interviews. I knew they didn’t have money; why would I ask them to pay me?” she said.
According to Sevilla, what she was doing was more of a service to a community that really needed help. Especially during the time in her early years of teaching the deaf, when there were no cellphones or internet yet for the deaf to communicate or even closed captioning on broadcast news. That meant the deaf really depended on interpreters to access information during that time.
For some, the reason for engaging in sign language interpretation is to immerse themselves in a community that benefits them and enhances them to become better persons.
Hergil Roni Abat, a resident SLI of SDEAS and a team lead/interpreter for a financial technology firm, initially became a sign language interpreter because she was a Child of a Deaf Adult or what we call CODA in the community. For her, the profession benefited her a lot and took her to places.
“For me, I learned a lot in interpreting. In judicial or what we call legal interpreting – I am interpreting but I am also learning at the same time,” she shared in an interview.
Being an SLI opened up countless of opportunities for Abat– from working with the Philippine Commission on Women, up to working with the Commission on Human Rights.
Mark Adrian Jayobo, a freelance SLI and a graduate of the SDEAS FSL Program, sees being an interpreter as a way to expand one’s horizon and step out of one’s comfort zone. “You get to see how the work that you do, the activities you get involved in changes and impacts the trajectory of the lives of other people, especially those in the Deaf community,” he elaborated.
As more and more industries are providing deaf access to jobs, events, and projects, the demand for sign language interpretation increases. Sadly, there are not enough interpreters in the Philippines able and available to respond to this demand.
As a response to the needs of the industry and the Deaf community, SDEAS opened the Bachelor in Sign Language Interpretation (BSLI) Program this year. BSLI is the first ever degree program in sign language interpretation in Southeast Asia. It is designed to equip students with necessary linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to become professional sign language interpreters in the future.
According to John Xandre Baliza, SDEAS Faculty and Chairperson of the BSLI program, knowing how to sign is different from knowing how to interpret. In the past, there was no institution in the country that focused on training somebody professionally to be an interpreter. Until recently, upon the establishment of the SDEAS BSLI Program, training institutions in the Philippines only offered sign language programs. To enhance his interpreting skills, Baliza had to look for training opportunities abroad. According to him, the value of the BSLI program is that it enables those interpreting practitioners to also immerse themselves and interact with members of the Deaf community, and also get their perspective on certain things especially if it involves the Deaf.
“We have to make sure that the Deaf community is there every step of the way in an interpreter’s education, whether it’s in a formal setting like BSLI where Deaf people ought to be involved in the program as teachers,” Baliza added.
Visit sdeas.benilde.edu.ph/bsli for more information about the Bachelor in Sign Language Interpretation (BSLI) Program. To learn basic to advanced Filipino Sign Language, visit sdeas.benilde.edu.ph/fsllp.