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Philippine Police under Fire over Order to Collect Data on Muslim Students

Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo
Iligan, Philippines
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Filipino Muslims pray during Ramadan in Baguio, Philippines, June 5, 2019.
Filipino Muslims pray during Ramadan in Baguio, Philippines, June 5, 2019.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

Philippine police found themselves on the defensive Friday over a leaked document in which a police chief ordered precincts across Manila to collect names of Muslim high school and university students, a move that rights groups, Islamic lawmakers and teachers branded as “profiling.”

The order, signed by Manila Police District Chief Brig. Gen. Bernabe Balba on Jan. 31, directed all station commanders in the Philippine capital to submit “an updated list of Muslim students in high school, colleges and universities in metro Manila.”

The directive was aimed at boosting police peace-building efforts while countering violent extremism, according to a copy of the leaked document widely distributed to the Philippine press.

Late Friday, a local news outlet reported that Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, the chief of Metro Manila police, had recalled the order, which was contained in a memorandum obtained and circulated by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), an educators’ group which criticized the policy as Islamophobic.

Sinas said he would “make the representation to (the) Directorate for Police Community Relations (DCPR) to reconsider their directive,” Rappler quoted him as saying and adding that Sinas had instructed Balba to recall the order.

Earlier, Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa defended the program, saying that consolidating all data of Muslim youths would help in future police and community development programs. He said he supported Manila cops for “reaching out to the Muslim youth sector.”

“Our goal is to facilitate dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters so that we can thrash out problems related to peace and order,” Gamboa said.

Critics of the policy accused the police of singling out young Muslims living in the capital of the Catholic-majority Philippines through profiling.

“This kind of profiling oppresses and ostracizes our Muslim youth, and creates a rift between the Muslim community and a police force that is duty-bound to also protect us as Filipinos,” Zia Alonto Adiong, a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), said in a statement.

The authority is the interim government of a newly formed expanded autonomous region in the south, where the population is largely Muslim and Islamic extremist groups operate.

“The dangerous association made between violent extremism and Islam is not new, and is rooted in years of discrimination against Muslims in the Philippines,” Adiong said, adding that the order was “prejudice disguising itself as law enforcement.”

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the order reeked “of the police’s ignorance and islamophobia.”

“It is deplorable that the PNP would want to target these young Muslim students to supposedly counter violent extremism, which is short of saying that Muslims are more likely to become extremists or terrorists,” ACT said.

The national police rejected the allegations of “profiling,” and said the policy was simply about collecting relevant data that would help in its intervention programs. But the police did not explain why non-Muslim students were not covered by the order.

“[T]he memorandum is not about profiling but the statistics of [the] Salaam Police Center on the number of Muslim high schools and college students in Metro Manila in order to conduct interventions and programs in strengthening Salaam Police in partnership with the community,” Sinas had said on Thursday, according to Rappler.

‘Baseless stereotyping’

Two Muslim members of the House of Representatives who represent constituencies in the south, Mujiv Hataman and Amihilda Sangcopan, said the government did not have the right to single out and prey on Muslim youths.

“This is so wrong. Profiling has no place in a nation that respects and draws strength from the diverse beliefs of its people,” said Hataman, a former governor who had drafted a proposed bill in the House to end discrimination against Muslims.

“Guilt by association is wrong, and sometimes fatal. Baseless stereotyping can end in lethal results,” he said.

Stereotyping Muslims as likely terrorists was one of the greatest failures in police intelligence in the Philippines, which has battled Muslim insurgency since the 1970s. In 2017, the military beat back Islamic State-linked militants who had taken over the center of the southern city of Marawi for five months.

Sangcopan, for her part, described the police move as “patently illegal” and a “modern-day injustice.” She demanded that the national police recall the order.

Their call was amplified by Amnesty International.

“Profiling entire communities solely on the basis of a single identity – whether based on gender, race or religion – supposedly in the name of curbing crime only fuels hate toward particular groups of people and intensifies fear of the police,” said Butch Olano, Amnesty’s director in the Philippines.

“Profiling of Muslim students leave too many holes where people’s rights may be violated without sufficient accountability. It is imperative for the PNP chief to ensure that his officers are held to the highest human rights standards for law enforcement, and to look into police activities that are obviously discriminatory in nature and only serve to instigate transphobia and Islamophobia,” he said in a statement.

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