Living with discrimination
Last Friday, Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), ordered the scrapping of a Jan. 31 memorandum on profiling Muslim students in all high schools, colleges, and universities in Metro Manila. The memo required a listing and updating of the lists of all Muslim students in the Metro Manila area “as part of the strengthening of peacebuilding and countering of violent extremism” of the Philippine National Police.
Shortly after the NCRPO chief directed all the police station chiefs in the metropolis to carry out the memorandum, there was a groundswell of protests especially from members of the interim Bangsamoro parliament. Once implemented, said Zia Alonto Adiong of the interim Bangsamoro parliament, the memorandum can be used in “perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that put the Muslim community at risk.” Adiong added that the memo associates violent extremism with Islam, and that such perception is rooted in years of discrimination against Muslims in the country.
While I welcome the scrapping of the memorandum, I am still wary about future police actions against young Muslim students in particular, and against Muslims in general, not only in Metro Manila, but in all parts of the Philippines. Deep-seated prejudices against Muslims continue to this day.
My apprehensions are not based on thin air, nor are they based on imagined acts of discrimination against Muslims. As a Muslim, and a woman, I have gone through many experiences that would have made me trek the violent, dark path that some who claim to be Muslim have chosen.
In general, women Muslims become the usual receiving end of discriminatory acts — they are readily identifiable with their ubiquitous marker, the head veil (hijab).
Once, my daughter and I were waiting for our turn to buy medicine from a drugstore in Sasa, Davao City. A mother was trying hard to pacify her daughter who was bawling loudly, demanding for a certain candy that the grocery section of the drugstore was displaying. Seeing me in my hijab, she immediately threatened her daughter by telling her, while pointing at me: “Kung dili ka mohilom, ako kang ihatag anang Muslim nga babae aron kidnapon ka niya (If you don’t keep quiet, I will give you to that Muslim woman over there so she will kidnap you)!”
There are other similar experiences, too numerous to mention here, that have insulted or even degraded me as a person, or as a hijabi (one who wears a hijab).
I often tell my colleagues in my peace and development work that discrimination is always expected in a country like ours — where the narratives of the visible and invisible minorities are not part of the collective consciousness of many Filipinos. Such acts of discrimination are the result of being ignorant of the narratives of the Moros, of the numerous, highly diverse ethnolinguistic groups in Mindanao. Many of these narratives still need to be seen and read in textbooks that are to be used nationwide.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa claims that there is nothing to worry about the memorandum, since he and NCRPO chief Sinas are from Mindanao, and that they understand the “uniqueness and complexities of the different belief systems in a multi-faith society…” I hope that Gamboa is not making double talk after the rash of strong protests against the PNP memo. Being from Mindanao is not a guarantee he is not prejudiced against Muslims.
More importantly, I want to see a PNP that will work for the security of the Filipinos—Christians and Muslims alike—and not to instill fear through dubious schemes of singling out Muslims and associating them with terrorism.
It is about time Muslims and other minority populations in this country should no longer experience acts of discrimination by fellow Filipinos.
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