Promote diversity, practice equality, build peace

Statement of Metro Manila and Mindanao Young Leaders on the Police Census of Muslim Students in Metro Manila:

Young people gathered at a meeting.

We are the youth from the many conflict-affected and excluded communities of Muslim Mindanao and Metro Manila. We have joined together in a network of more than 200 young leaders from across religious and ethnic backgrounds to commit our talents, skills, and fortitude in the achievement of a durable peace by working to end clan conflict, criminal violence, violent extremism, and promote inclusivity in the social, political, and economic spheres.

We are deeply concerned that a memorandum was reportedly released by the Manila Police District directing police officers to submit an updated list of Muslim students enrolled in high school, colleges, and universities with the objective of strengthening peace and countering the spread of violent extremism in Metro Manila.

This directive is an act of identity and religious discrimination and deepens the prejudice and oppression that many of us Muslim have been experiencing. It retrogresses the gains achieved by different groups in advancing diversity and equality in academic institutions, workplaces, and the wider society.

There have been at least 14 anti-discrimination ordinances passed by local governments over the years. A Joint Memorandum by the Department of Interior and Local Government of National Capital Region (NCR), the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, and the Regional Peace and Order Council of NCR was signed last year requiring local governments of NCR to establish Muslim Consultative Councils in their localities. Deliberations are also ongoing on the five anti-discrimination bills filed in Congress that have specific sections prohibiting profiling. The recent issuance may backslide some of the progress made, especially on the policy-front.

While most young people here in Mindanao are celebrating the triumph of the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law that established the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, it will be the opposite for many elsewhere who are and will be continuously judged because of their identity.

We commend the immediate action of our leaders in the interim Bangsamoro parliament to question the memorandum and called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ‘take corrective measures and to condemn similar discriminatory actions within and among their ranks in the future.’

We’ve had enough of the uninformed bias that Muslims are more likely to join violent extremist groups. This is simplistic thinking and dismisses the multiplicity of the causes of violence in our communities such as land and resource-based conflict, the shadow economies of illegal drugs and guns, and the many tensions brought about by transitions, such as in the case of post-war Marawi.

While we applaud the recent memorandum by the PNP-NCR ordering the revocation of this directive, we call on the PNP to ensure equal rights for all and strengthen interventions and programs that are holistic and promote community cohesion rather than division.

We also call on schools and workplaces to put in place measures that break discrimination and promote equality and diversity. Schools are crucial in rooting out all forms of discrimination against Muslims and other minority groups. So are workplaces where we should be given access to opportunities that would ensure our professional development and sustainable career paths without sacrificing our identities and religious freedoms.

We call on Congress to expedite the passage of a national anti-discrimination bill that will uphold religious, ethnic, and cultural freedom and create an environment that is safe, culturally sensitive, and respectful of diverse traditions and practices.

Likewise, we call on our local governments to continue to protect the right to privacy of its constituents from initiatives that may have the unintended consequence of putting them at risk of being targeted based on their identity, faith, or cultural affiliation.

Lastly, we call on everyone to take part in ending all forms of discrimination. We might think injustice, conflict, and suffering across our communities are beyond our control but, this doesn’t have to be. It is only then that we can build a society that encourages us young people to exercise our own agency, amplify our voices, and be our best selves while contributing to the peaceful development of our nation.

Youth Political Leadership Training Alumni (YPLT)
Movement of Young Peacebuilders in Mindanao (MOVE)
Iranun Corridor Youth Network (ICYN)
Project Tripod
Mindanao Young Leaders Programme (MinYLP) Batch Sinag 2019

The above groups comprise International Alert Philippines‘ network of youth leaders in Mindanao and Metro Manila working together and leading peace and development change projects that help build conflict-resilient communities and prevent violent extremism.