Guilt by association
For Philippine National Police chief Archie Gamboa, the intense backlash the police faced last week—following the revelation that station commanders had been directed to compile a list of Muslim students in Metro Manila high schools, colleges and universities “as part of the strengthening of peacebuilding and counter violent extremism of the PNP”—was much ado about nothing. The public has become “oversensitive on a lot of things,” he said, and it had “misinterpreted” the PNP’s intentions.
He did say that the incident was a “wake-up call” for the police to be more careful about how it communicates its directives—but then couldn’t resist the jab that the public should be “more circumspect” and “not be swayed by disinformation spun by those with ulterior motives.”
The guy doesn’t get it.
What “disinformation” and “ulterior motives” would the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) possibly have, when it raised the alarm about the Jan. 31 memorandum issued by the Manila Police District requiring station commanders to identify the total number of Muslim students in each school, college and university, their gender and the grade or year they are in? ACT said the memo had been presented by police officers to the Timoteo Paez Integrated School in Tondo, Manila as the basis for pressing teachers with questions about their Muslim students. The memo itself explicitly lumps Muslim students and “violent extremism” in one sentence. There could only be one conclusion—a deplorable one: The PNP thinks Muslim students are more likely to become terrorists and thus should be the target of counterterrorism scrutiny. There was no similar memo directing police units to obtain the personal data of non-Muslim students. Could the prejudice be any clearer?
Muslims had every right to feel aggrieved at the PNP’s action. As Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman said in a statement, “Maling-mali ito (This is so wrong). Profiling has no place in a nation that respects and draws strength from the diverse beliefs of its people. Guilt by association is wrong, and sometimes fatal. Baseless stereotyping can end in lethal results. What is sad is that this is an official directive, and aimed at children at that.”
Hataman said the typecasting of Muslims as possible terrorists and listing down their names for a possible watchlist “is one of the greatest failures of police intelligence in our history.” “Ang ganyang generalizations ay huwag din sana nilang i-apply sa amin (These kinds of generalizations should not be applied to us). Muslim children are being bullied, and those who ought to serve and protect them should not join in their abuse. The police should fight, not fuel, discrimination.”
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament, in a unanimously approved resolution on Feb. 21, joined Hataman and many others in condemning “the prejudicial treatment of Muslim youth by the Manila Police District.” MP Amir Mawallil, one of the authors of Resolution No. 201, said such discrimination “has no place in our homes, our communities, and our country.” And if Gamboa thinks the public should be “more circumspect” in discerning the PNP’s conduct, in effect asking that it be excused for its reckless ways, the Bangsamoro parliament would like to see that sense of consideration used in a more constructive way, as it appealed “to fellow public servants and government institutions to be more circumspect in introducing policies so that they promote inclusion and harmony instead of exclusion and disunity.”
Stung by the public outcry, Metro Manila Police chief Debold Sinas was left with no choice but to recall the memo last Friday. But, like his superior, he could not summon a plain apology, and continued to justify the move as “not about profiling but only the statistics” and that it was not intended “to cause harm and anxiety to our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Sure—but cause harm and anxiety it did. For Zia Alonto Adiong, a member of the interim Bangsamoro parliament, the dangerous implications are all too clear: “This kind of profiling oppresses and ostracizes our Muslim youth, and creates a rift between the Muslim community and a police force that is duty-bound to also protect us as Filipinos,” he said. “The PNP, whose mission is to serve and protect all Filipinos, should not be perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that put the Muslim community at risk.”
The threat of terrorism is real. But to subject the entire Muslim studentry in Metro Manila to suspicion? Clearly, when the PNP memo mentioned “the strengthening of peacebuilding,” it had no idea what it was talking about.
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