Religious Freedom and Dialog in the Philippines
Text excerpts from:
2001 International Religious Freedom Report

The Philippine Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice, although there were a few exceptions.

Adherents of all faiths are free to exercise their religious beliefs in all parts of the country without government interference or restriction; however, socioeconomic disparity between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority has contributed to persistent conflict in certain provinces. The principal remaining armed insurgent Muslim group continued to seek greater autonomy or an independent Islamic state.

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Peace talks between the Government and this group stalled during June 2000 as violent clashes claimed many lives on both sides. Negotiations began again after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became President in January 2001. In June 2001, the Government reached agreement with this group to implement a cease-fire agreement, cooperate in efforts to resettle displaced persons, and undertake development projects in areas of conflict. Militant Muslim splinter groups have engaged in terrorism. Moderate Muslim leaders strongly criticized these tactics.

There is some ethnic and cultural discrimination against Muslims by Christians. This has led some Muslims to seek successfully a degree of political autonomy for Muslims in the southwestern part of the country.

Christian missionaries work in most parts of western Mindanao, often within Muslim communities.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice, although there were a few exceptions. Although Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion, there is no state religion. The Government generally does not restrict adherents of other religions from practicing their faith.

Organized religions must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission as nonstock, nonprofit organizations and with the Bureau of Internal Revenue to establish their tax-exempt status.

The Government provides no direct subsidies to institutions for religious purposes, including aid to the extensive school systems maintained by religious orders and church groups. The Office of Muslim affairs, funded through the Office of the President, generally limits its activities to fostering Islamic religious practices, although it also has the authority to coordinate projects for economic growth in predominantly Muslim areas. The office's Philippine Pilgrimage Authority helps coordinate the travel of religious pilgrimage groups to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, by providing bus service to and from airports, hotel reservations, and guides. The Presidential Assistant for Muslim Affairs helps coordinate relations with countries that have large Islamic populations that have contributed to Mindanao's economic development and to the peace process with insurgent groups.

mindanao.7.jpg (5863 bytes) The four-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established in 1990 to respond to the demand of Muslims for local autonomy in areas where they are a majority or a substantial minority. The provinces comprising the ARMM are: Maguindanao; Lanao del Sur; Sulu; and Tawi-Tawi.

The Code of Muslim Personal Laws, enacted in 1977, recognizes the Shari'a (Islamic law) civil law system as part of national law; however, it applies only to Muslims, and applies regardless of their place of residence in the country.

As part of their strategy for a moral and religious revival in western Mindanao, some Muslim religious leaders (ulamas) argue that the Government should allow Islamic courts to extend their jurisdiction to criminal law cases, a step beyond the many civil law cases that they already can settle as part of the judicial system in western Mindanao. Some ulamas also support the MILF's goal of forming an autonomous region governed in accordance with Islamic law.

Based on a traditional policy of promoting moral education, local public schools make available to church groups the opportunity to teach moral values during school hours. Attendance is not mandatory, and various churches rotate in sharing classroom space. In many parts of Mindanao, Muslim students routinely attend Catholic schools from elementary to university level. These students are not required to undertake Catholic religious instruction.

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Religious affiliation is customarily a function of a person's family, ethnic group, or tribal membership. Historically, Muslims have been alienated socially from the dominant Christian majority.

Christian and Muslim communities live in close proximity throughout central and western Mindanao and, in many areas, their relationship is harmonious. However, efforts by the dominant Christian population to resettle in traditionally Muslim areas, particularly over the past 60 years, have brought resentment from some Muslim residents. Muslims view Christian proselytizing as an extension of an historical effort by the Christian majority to deprive them of their homeland and cultural identity as well as their religion. Christian missionaries work in most parts of western Mindanao, often within Muslim communities.

The national culture, with its emphasis on familial, tribal, and regional loyalties, creates informal barriers whereby access to jobs or resources is provided first to those of one's own family or group. Some employers have a biased expectation that Muslims have a lower educational level. Predominantly Muslim provinces in Mindanao continue to lag behind the rest of the island of Mindanao in almost all aspects of socioeconomic development.

Religious dialog and cooperation among the country's various religious communities generally are amicable. Many religious leaders are involved in ecumenical activities and also in interdenominational efforts to alleviate poverty. The Interfaith Group, which is registered as a nongovernmental organization, includes Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Protestant church representatives who have joined together in an effort to support the Mindanao peace process through work with communities of former combatants. Besides social and economic support, the Interfaith Group seeks to encourage Mindanao communities to instill their faiths in their children.

Amicable ties among religious groups are reflected in many nonofficial organizations. The leadership of human rights groups, trade union confederations, and industry associations represent many religious persuasions.

The Bishops-Ulamas Conference, which meets monthly to deepen mutual doctrinal understanding between Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders in Mindanao, helps further the Mindanao peace process. The co-chairs of the conference are the Archbishop of Davao, Ferdinand Capalla, and the president of the Ulama Association, Majid Mutilan, the outgoing governor of Lanao del Sur province. The conference seeks to foster exchanges at the local level between parish priests and local Islamic teachers. Paralleling the dialog fostered by religious leaders, the Silsila Foundation in Zamboanga City hosts a regional exchange among Muslim and Christian academics and local leaders meant to reduce bias and promote cooperation.

Had it been God's ill, he could have made them all of one religion. But God brings whom He will into His mercy; the wrongdoers have none to befriend or help them.

Have they set up other guardians besides Him? Surely God alone is the Guardian. He resurrects the dead and has power over things.

- The Quran 42:8-9 in 
Anthology of World Scriptures by
R. Van Voorst (2000:304)

The Government's National Ecumenical Commission (NEC) fosters interfaith dialog among the major religious groups--the Roman Catholic Church, Islam, Iglesia ni Cristo, the Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan), and Protestant denominations. The Protestant churches are represented in the NEC by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines and the Council of Evangelical Churches of the Philippines. Members of the NEC met periodically with the President to discuss social and political questions.

Source: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
United States Department of State
October 26, 2001

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