ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - The decision of a Mindanao high school to ban students from donning hijab bas motivated angry reactions from human rights and Muslim groups, saying the school's policy violates a student's basic right to practice religion.
We are asking them to comply with existing laws because their policy [violates] human rights," Alih S. Aiyub, secretary-general of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines in Western Mindanao, told Rappler website on Tuesday, July 31.
Muslim furor followed the decision of Pilar College to prohibit its female Muslim students from wearing the traditional hijab in the school premises.
Though the city council has passed a resolution questioning the policy, the Catholic school, one of the oldest academic institutions in Western Mindanao, stood firm by its decision.
In a July 9 letter to Mayor Celso Lobregat, Sister Maria Nina Balbas, president of Pilar College, confirmed that the school is implementing the ban.
Our origin is Roman Catholic and we cannot deviate from that origin," Balbas said.
"It is true we cater to students of different religions, but before they are officially enrolled, during interviews of student applicants, rules and regulations are explained to them particularly the non-wearing of the hijab or veil."
Edilwasif Baddiri, commissioner-in-charge of legal at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), criticized the school's policy as contradicting with country laws, calling on Pilar College to uphold the laws of the state.
It is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the 1987 Philippine Constitution and Section 32 of Republic Act No. 9710, The Magna Carta of Women, he said.
Baddiri added that a Department of Education Order No. 53 in 2001 issued by then Secretary Raul S. Roco gave Muslim students the right to don hijab in schools.
"In the specific case of Muslim students, the following policies shall be adopted: a. Female Muslim schoolchildren should be allowed to use their veil or headdress (hijab) inside the school campus."
The Commission on Higher Education also issued another memorandum in 2008 that supports the wearing of Muslim headdress by college nursing students.
The school's decision was also condemned by human rights advocates in Philippines as violating a student's basic right to practice religion.
We acknowledge the policy of the institution. However, it should not go beyond the freedom of religion, said Rosemarie R. Trajano, secretary-general of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).
The right to practice religion should be treated as a paramount principle, she said. - Rappler.com
Activists also called for an online campaign that targets to gather 1 million signatures calls for a boycott of Pilar College.
Mindanao, the birthplace of Islam which reached the Philippines in the 13th century about 200 years before Christianity, is home to more than 5 million Muslims.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
Hijab has been thrust into the limelight since France banned it in public schools and institutions back in 2004.
Several European countries have since followed the French lead.