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US gov’t hails religious freedom in the Philippines

/ 01:44 PM February 15, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines generally respects religious freedom “in law and in practice,” according to the US Department of State in a report on religious freedom in the Philippines.

In the same report, which is posted on the Web site of the US Embassy in Manila, the state US State Department said the Aquino administration “does not ban or discourage specific religious groups or factions” and there were “no reports of religious detainees or prisoners in the country” or “societal abuses based on religious affiliation.”

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It said that while the Manila government has attributed a series of attacks, kidnapping and killings on the Abu Sayyaf Group, other Islamic militants and the New People’s Army, “religious affiliation was not seen as a relevant factor in these attacks.”

The State Department also commended the government for promoting interfaith dialogue “to build mutual trust and respect among various religious and cultural groups.”

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“The Council of Interfaith Initiatives ended in June 2010 with the conclusion of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term in office. Under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, issues relating to religious freedom are monitored by the Commission on Human Rights,” it said.

But the agency claimed there were “some ethnic, religious and cultural discrimination against members of the Muslim minority by members of the Christian majority.”

“This, combined with economic disparities, contributed to persistent conflict in certain provinces in the southern part of the country,” said the report.

The agency pointed out that “historically, Muslims have been alienated socially from the Christian majority, and some ethnic and cultural discrimination against Muslims has been recorded.”

“Young Muslim professionals reported that some employers stereotyped Muslims as being less educated. Some Muslims also reported that they had difficulty renting rooms in boarding houses or being hired for retail work if they used their real names or wore distinctive Muslim dress. Therefore, many resorted to adopting Christian pseudonyms and wearing Western clothing,” it said.

“Over the past 60 years, efforts by the dominant Christian population to resettle in traditionally Muslim areas, such as Mindanao, have fostered resentment among many Muslim residents. Many Muslims viewed Christian proselytizing as another form of resettlement with the intention of depriving Muslims of their homeland and cultural identify, including their religion,” it added.

Amicable ties

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But “despite these circumstances, amicable ties among religious communities were common and many participated in inter-denominational efforts to alleviate poverty,” the agency said.

According to the State Department, the government permits “religious instruction in public schools with parents’ written consent, provided there is no cost to the government.”

“Based on a traditional policy of promoting moral education, local public schools give religious groups the opportunity to teach moral values during school hours. Attendance is not mandatory and the various groups share classroom space. The government also allows interested groups to distribute religious literature in public schools,” it said.

By law, public schools “must ensure that the religious rights of students are protected. Muslim students are allowed to wear hijab (head coverings), and Muslim girls are not required to wear shorts during physical education classes. In many parts of Mindanao, Muslim students routinely attend Catholic schools from elementary to university level. These students are not required to receive religious instruction.”

Although many madrassah, or Islamic schools, in the country do not meet the Department of Education’s accreditation standards, they continue to get financial support from the government, the agency also reported.

“The DepEd has ordered public schools with at least 15 Muslim students to begin offering Arabic-language instruction and classes on Islamic values, but funding shortfalls and a lack of qualified teachers limit the reach of this initiative,” said the State Department.

For its part, the US government “discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.”

“US embassy officers regularly meet with representatives of all major religious groups to discuss these problems and concerns. In addition, the US government actively supports the government’s peace process with Muslim insurgents in Mindanao, which has the potential to contribute to peace and a better climate for interfaith cooperation, said the agency.

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TAGS: Features, Foreign affairs, Freedom of Religion, Religion, US Imperialism
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