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AN OPEN LETTER FOR THE RVM SISTERS OF PILAR COLLEGE IN ZAMBOANGA CITY

August 2, 2012

 

 

S. Maria Nina C. Balbas, RVM

President

Pilar College

Zamboanga City

 

 

Dear Sister Balbas:

 

Greetings of peace!

 

I am writing, not only as the Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos with the mandate to look after the welfare of the Filipino Muslims, but also as a resident of Zamboanga City who graduated from the Ateneo de Zamboanga in 1972, and had friends from your College, including a nun we fondly called Sister Linda (Sr. Erlinda Macatol).

 

I am writing, not to argue, but to enlighten; and not to object, but to appeal for your kind reconsideration and compromise, in behalf of the hijab-wearing Muslimah enrolled in Pilar College.

 

I have premised my letter in this manner to show you and the esteemed RVM sisters of Pilar College that I have long interacted with Christians and Catholics, including the Jesuits of the Ateneo, in a spirit of deep respect and understanding, which I discovered, has always been reciprocated in kind.

 

On July 28, 2012, I was furnished a copy of your letter to the good Mayor of Zamboanga City, the Hon. Celso L. Lobregat, responding to Resolution No. 552 (June 27, 2012) of the City Council of Zamboanga. The letter justified the non-wearing of hijab as your school policy which you say is “explained to them” (the Muslims), so that “in this way, we are giving freedom to students to choose a school which best fits them.” You add that “because they (the Muslims) have been informed that the hijab is not allowed inside the school, they are duty bound to follow the same,” and “they are deemed to have agreed to the rule if after having been informed of the restriction, they still chose to enroll.”  Your letter justified this on the basis of “institutional Academic Freedom” which allows “a private school community” to be “organized according to the tenets of freedom of association” and hence, “it may freely adopt its own policies, standards, regulations and set forth its conditions for those wishing to join this community as student.” According to your letter, “this is part of academic freedom in connection with which the school has the right to choose whom to teach.” [citing Ulpiano Sarmiento in Education, Law and the Private School, 2009]

 

The foregoing discourse of Atty. Sarmiento dwell on the general and must give way to particular provisions of the law, and issuances of concerned government institutions. The Magna Carta of Women (R.A. No. 9710) for instance, provides for the protection and promotion of the rights of women in general, and Muslim/Moro/Indigenous women in particular.  Sec. 32 (e) of the said law is more in point when it says: “Sensitivity of regular schools to particular Moro and indigenous practices, such as fasting in the month of Ramadan, choice of clothing (including the wearing of hijab)and availability of halal food shall be ensured…”  

 

Then also, the Department of Education in its Order No. 53, series of 2001 decreed the the protection of religious rights of students by providing as follows:

 

x x x

 

“4. In the specific cases of Muslim students, the following policies shall be adopted:

 

  1. Female Muslim schoolchildren should be allowed to use their veil or headdress inside the school campus.
  2. In Physical Education (PE) classes, Muslim girls shall not be required to wear shorts; they shall be allowed to wear appropriate clothing in accordance with their religious beliefs.
  3. Muslim students shall not be required to participate in non-Muslim religious rites.”

 

x x x

 

I hope that Pilar College can reconsider its policy in view of these very clear legal mandates and institutional policy of the Department of Education. Pilar College should realize that while educational institutions can formulate their own policies, the same should not run counter to existing laws and state policies. While Pilar College claims the exercise of academic freedom, such freedom must conform to law and the basic indices of justice and fair play, as well as the corresponding exercise by students of their equally constitutionally-enshrined right to religious freedom.

 

Your policy appears to be premised on the fact that Pilar College being a Catholic institution, “the core of the curriculum … is Christian living, the reason why all of our schools have Christian Living/Theology/Religious Studies subjects”. You say that “our   academic instruction, no matter how excellent they may be, can never be fully accomplished if we do not teach and guide our students the way to God”.

 

I admire your College for the noble purpose of its educational endeavors. And perhaps, a number of Muslim families in Zamboanga City harbor the same admiration, which is why they have sent their daughters to enroll in your College. In this context, I do not see how allowing your Muslim students to wear a hijab (that may be regulated and agreed upon) will prevent your College from teaching and guiding your students the way to God”, because the wearing of the hijab is by itself, a Muslim’s way to God, as the practice is part of religious studies which your College teaches.

 

As a matter of fact, the wearing of the hijab is akin to the wearing of the veil which is practiced by your religious orders and which has a long history of Christian usage to indicate modesty and dedication to God. It is mentioned in the Holy Bible, particularly in 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, which says, “For if a woman is not covered, let her be shaven. But if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.”

 

In the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, it says that “the taking of the veil suggested an obligation of constancy, which forbade, first, illicit sexual intercourse, and afterwards marriage itself. Virgins took this veil themselves, or received it from the hands of their parents. It was worn also by widows, who made a profession of continence, and was called velum, velamen, maforte, flammeus (flammeum), flammeus virginalis, flammeus Christi (Wilpert, "Die gottgeweihten Jungfrauen in den ersten Jahrhunderten der Kirche", p. 17). [Quoted from www.newadvent.org/cathen/15321c.htm]

 

More so, until the 1960s it was obligatory for Catholic women to wear a veil when going to church. The foregoing shows that Pilar College can adhere to its avowed Christian educational policy even and in fact, especially, if it allows its Muslim female students to wear their veil or hijab, becausethe wearing of the veil is as much Christian as it is Islamic.

 

As a final note, I hope to disabuse your position that this is a mere issue of choosing schools according to one’s community because this position is fraught with perilous implications. If we are to abide by this position and apply this indiscriminately, then we shall have schools banning students because they do not belong to their community. We shall have education apportioned to people of the same class and intolerant of others who do not belong to their class. We shall then be damaging the very ramparts of freedom and democracy upon which this nation was built.

 

Instead, we should look at this issue as one of policy which may be altered, or moderated, to use a more proper word.  Because if policy were to be unchangeable even if it is discriminative, then Rosa Parks of the Civil Rights Era in the United States would have always been obligated to give up her seat for white passengers because it was the policy and tradition then.

 

The oppressive tradition of the time of Rosa Parks has changed, resulting in the election of the first black President almost four years ago. That change did not destroy America. In the same manner, allowing the hijab prohibition and regulating it in Pilar College, will not destroy the College and its noble educational goals. Nor will it impair its right to academic freedom, because in spite the hijab, Pilar College can determine its academic system of accepting students, its method of teaching and giving grades, its mode of student discipline, and the intellectual and spiritual well-being of its students as a whole.

 

As the wearing of the hijab or the veil is a sign of modesty and obedience to God, it can never denigrate or damage educational institutions. Instead, it can uplift the institution’s sense of modesty and morality without distinction as to religion.

 

Given the foregoing, I hope Pilar College can revisit its anti-hijab policy for the good of all its students, Christians and Muslims alike. We shall be happy to sit and dialogue with you, if you feel that the NCMF can contribute to the resolution of this issue.

 

Warm regards,

 

 

 Very truly yours,

 

 [Signed]

 MEHOL K. SADAIN

 Secretary/CEO



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