MANILA, Philippines - The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) on Thursday backed a directive of the Department of Education (DepEd) for Filipino Muslim women hired as Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) teachers to remove their face veils or niqab inside the classroom.
NCMF secretary Mehol Sadain said DepEd Order 32 aims to enhance the effectiveness of ustadja or ALIVE teachers.
“The Muslimah and the entire Muslim community should not find DepEd Order 32 objectionable on the ground that it compels Muslim women to violate their religious obligations or abandon their religious prerogatives,” Sadain said in a statement.
He added that the order would affect only ALIVE teachers.
“Women in the Islamic world have a variety of ways of complying with the Quranic injunctions by using either the hijab, niqab or burqa,” Sadain said.
“This means that a Muslim woman who wears the hijab with her face uncovered, as a matter of preference, complies with the Quranic dress code for women,” he added.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the directive is not mandatory nor meant to curtail religious rights.
“I want to make it clear that the Department of Education order was not meant to impinge on the religious rights of Muslim teachers,” he said, adding that the directive was worded as a “request.”
“If they feel strongly about it, then they won’t be forced to do it. There will be no penalties imposed,” he said.
He said the order aims to promote better teacher-pupil relationship and to support effective language teaching, since seeing the teacher’s lips helps in the correct production of letter sounds.
The DepEd hired 1,635 Muslim teachers to teach ALIVE to 166,000 students.
The program is being implemented in 849 schools across the country, mostly in Muslim regions.
Meanwhile, officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the DepEd order needs more explaining to be understood by the public.
Laisa Alamia, ARMM executive secretary, told a press briefing in Cotabato City that Muslim teachers are only asked to remove face covering but not head veils. Alamia, flanked by ARMM Cabinet secretary Khal Mambuay-Campong, ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman’s chief of staff of Amihilda Sangcopan and the region’s solicitor-general, Sahara Alia Silongan, said the executive department of ARMM is in the best position to help disseminate the DepEd order.
Amir Mawalil, managing chief of ARMM’s communication group, said they are willing to initiate an information campaign with the help of the regional education department and experts from the Madaris Education Bureau, which is overseeing Islamic classes in public schools. – With John Unson