Opinion: The anti-discrimination bill

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Dec 10 2018 11:41 PM

What would it mean for the Philippines to have a real anti-discrimination bill? It certainly sounds like a certain utopia: to have human rights, equality, and dignity restored that discrimination strips away. Discrimination is a type of fungus that ails much of our country, and its targets are the citizens from different ethno-linguistic or religious backgrounds.

The House of Representatives recently approved on second reading a bill which will ban discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion. This bill, if passed, would be a major step for the various ethnic groups in the Philippines, among them the Bangsamoro.

The proposed measure was first filed by current autonomous Muslim region governor Mujiv Hataman when he served as party-list representative of Anak Mindanao (Amin) at the lower chamber. The bill was re-filed years later by his successor Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin who resigned as Amin’s representative from her position on October 2 last year. In the current congress, Amin Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan continues to push for the passage of the proposed anti-discrimination law.

The Bangsamoro people have always been the targets of discrimination and prejudice. The mere mention of Mindanao is enough to spur comments and questions about violence, usually without any basis on fact. The Muslim community faces much ethnic and religious discrimination from Filipinos and the rest of the world. Casual slurs and stereotypes abound—I have heard too many of these stories from members of my own community.

Muslims are unfairly and without basis typecast as terrorists, war-mongers, and criminals. Just because someone “looks like” a Muslim or “sounds like” a Muslim or “acts like” a Muslim, they’re immediately faced with hatred and suspicion.

This is the type of religious discrimination that I hope this bill will eliminate, because there should be no “Muslim type.” Instead, there should be common knowledge shown for our traditions, a shared respect for our beliefs, and a thorough understanding of our people.

Not only would this bill help fight discrimination against religion, it could also be a stepping stone for peace among people of differing ethnic groups.

The House bill defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or reference made on the basis of race, color, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious affirmation or beliefs which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying… of the human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, social, cultural, civil, or any other field of public life of a person.”

This might even pave the way for more accurate knowledge for all about our shared history with Filipinos. There is so much of our traditions, history, beliefs, and shared interactions that often goes buried under the black umbrella of prejudice and discrimination. If people could look at us with mutual recognition and respect, then they might be able to form a better understanding of the Bangsamoro culture.

This bill is only one of the anti-discrimination bills in Congress that has been read throughout the years. And the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill, or Senate Bill 948,gained prominence this past July. There’s also the proposed legislation on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, or SOGIE bill, going against discrimination within the LGBT community, passed by the House in 2017.

There is also the Integrated History Law which, if fully implemented by the Department of Education, would teach basic and higher education in the country the history of Muslims in the Philippines. Philippine history would then include the tradition of the Bangsamoro, hoping to unite us through our shared history, no matter how tumultuous it is. If fully implemented not just in Mindanao, but in other parts of the nation, I hope we will be able to learn from the lessons of Filipino and Moro interactions in the past.

While the government is certainly taking major steps in helping solve the disparities of our country, it is not the only way to end discrimination. We as citizens must act, too. We must resolve to understand the ethnic origins of the various ethno-linguistic groups within our nation. We must treat each other with the respect afforded to being members of the same country—no matter where we come from.

Perhaps it would lead to greater peace and sustainable development in Mindanao if issues regarding discrimination were wiped away. If people could look at Muslims without fear or hatred in their eyes, and treat them with common dignity, respect, and kindness, we could come closer to some kind of utopia.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.