In July President Duterte approved a “strategic peace roadmap” with the expressed aims of addressing the aspirations of Muslim and other separatist groups in Mindanao. According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the roadmap aims to uphold all preexisting Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreements within constitutional parameters, including the role of sharia. An expanded and inclusive Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) will be reconstituted and will involve additional stakeholders from the region with the aim of ensuring inclusivity. The new BTC will draft a bill designed to implement the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the goal of submitting it to congress by July 2017. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity are often closely linked in Mindanao, it was difficult to categorize the process of drafting a framework for peace in the region as being solely based on religious factors.
The Philippines Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) stated that, for many Muslims, the failure of the previous congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (draft legislation to implement the CAB with the MILF that preceded the “strategic peace roadmap”) amounted to failure of the government to implement an expansion of their religious freedom, which had been agreed upon by OPAPP and MILF negotiators.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Presidential Task Force on Interreligious and Intercultural Concerns continued to monitor issues relating to religious freedom and received no complaints or cases involving the abuse of religious freedom again this year. The NCMF received at least one report of discrimination against Muslims on the basis of religion.
The NCMF’s Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment continued to administer logistics for the Hajj, such as obtaining flight schedules, administering vaccines, coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs to process Hajj passports, filing Hajj visa applications at the Saudi Embassy, and conducting predeparture orientations for pilgrims. The NCMF reported there were approximately 8,000 pilgrims during the year, meeting the limit set by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj for pilgrims from the Philippines. The NCMF also administered the awqaf (an endowment for the upkeep of Islamic properties and institutions) and continued to oversee establishment and maintenance of Islamic centers and other projects
Following the September 2 bombing of a night market in Davao City which left 15 people dead, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said it would be a good security practice to disallow garments that cover faces in public and issued a written statement asking Muslims to refrain from wearing hijabs or burqas in public that cover their faces. The city government’s public safety office discussed plans to require Muslim women to remove their hijabs and burqas upon entering malls and at other checkpoints as a security measure. The city government said, in addition to burqas, other accessories such as sunglasses, hats, and facemasks that conceal one’s identity would also have to be removed. Some Muslim groups, including Suara Bangsamoro, criticized the plan saying it was discriminatory against Muslims and disrespectful of their religious belief and culture. At year’s end, the policy was not adopted and was still under consideration by the Davao City Council.
DepEd continued to support the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program for Muslim students in selected public elementary schools. For the 2015-2016 school year, a total of 1,638 public elementary schools administered the ALIVE program, including providing instructional materials and modules. Within those schools, 313,697 elementary students were enrolled in the ALIVE program.
Madrassahs continued to have the option of registering with the NCMF, DepEd, both, or neither; registration was not mandatory. A total of 104 private madrassahs were registered with DepEd. Only registered schools could receive financial assistance from the government. DepEd’s Office of Madrassah Education managed local and international financial assistance to the private madrassah system. DepEd-registered madrassahs followed the Standard Madrassah Curriculum and received funding for teachers of the Revised Basic Education Curriculum subjects and for classroom and facility improvements. DepEd provided 27.9 million pesos ($563,000) in financial support to the registered private madrassahs, which served 5,719 students. The funding level for and attendance at private madrassahs decreased by more than 50 percent from the previous year. DepEd stated this was likely due to the successful implementation of the ALIVE program as children from private madrassahs may transfer to public institutions and learn the same curriculum without the cost of a private institution.
In September President Duterte likened himself to Adolf Hitler during a press conference, saying, “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there is [sic] three million drug addicts, there are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” His statement drew criticism from the World Jewish Congress, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Anti-Defamation League. The president later apologized. The recently appointed Ambassador to the UN, Teodoro Locsin, Jr., tweeted in August, “I believe that the Drug Menace is so big it needs a FINAL SOLUTION like the Nazis adopted.” Locsin later apologized and removed this tweet and another referencing Auschwitz as a solution to the drug problem.
In May then President-elect Duterte said the Catholic Church was the “most hypocritical institution” for questioning his morals in the lead-up to the May presidential election. In October President Duterte called members of the Catholic clergy “sons of whores” for questioning deaths resulting from an ongoing government-sponsored anticrime campaign. In December he said the Catholic Church was “only good in collection” in responding to poverty and drug addiction issues, referring to the practice of collecting cash donations during Mass, but said the Church “would not give anything.” President Duterte also said in December he did not believe in religion, especially the Catholic Church, which he said sowed fear into the faithful about hell. He said, “Be careful about religion, it is about gold.” As of the end of the year, there were no reports of governmental follow-up to these statements.
The government stated that it continued to promote interfaith dialogue to build mutual trust and respect among various religious and cultural groups. The Presidential Task Force on Interreligious and Intercultural Concerns coordinated all interreligious and intercultural concerns and initiatives within the government on behalf of the Office of the President. For example, the task force participated in the 7th UN Alliance of Civilizations Focal Points meeting that centered on building trust and relationships as a response to violent extremism. The government also participated in the World Interfaith Harmony Week by hosting a culminating event called “Festival of Harmony,” a gathering of leaders of many religious groups, members of the diplomatic corps, key government officials, leaders of interfaith movements, and peace advocacy organizations. The event highlighted mutual cooperation between the government and the religious community in promoting religious freedom, dialogue, and peace.