GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 July) – Secretary Armin Luistro of the Department of Education was caught in a controversy with Muslims because of Department Order No. 32 he issued last July 16. Three media reports all dated July 16, 2013 told different tales.
Luwaran (DepEd orders Muslim women teachers to remove veil while inside classrooms) states in its lead: “The Department of Education ordered Muslim teachers Tuesday, July 16 to remove their veils inside classrooms, in part to promote better relationships between teachers and pupils.” It inferred the order is for all Muslim women teachers.
It identified Education Secretary Armin Luistro as “a member of the Catholic La Salle brothers” and cited him as saying “the move was part of reforms to make schools more sensitive to religion”. It referred to provisions in the order upholding freedom of Muslim students to wear hijab. Yet the order was denounced as offensive to Islam. It quoted and cited Muslims who rebuked Luistro.
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Muslim lawmakers ask DepEd chief to review ‘no face veil’ policy in classes) stated in its lead: “Muslim lawmakers are asking Education Secretary Armin Luistro to reconsider his directive requesting Muslim public schoolteachers not to wear their face veils in the classroom, so as not to unduly interfere with their beliefs, religion, and culture.” The inference is like Luwaran’s even if toward the end it clarified that the directive is only for teachers of Arabic Language and Islamic Values.
While in their joint statement the lawmakers recognized “Luistro’s directive was worded as a request”, they said “it still conflicts with the teachings of the Quran” and “is patently offensive to the religious feelings of the Muslim people, and would (sic) the provisions of the Islamic Dress Code.”
The Philippine Star (Islamic body backs DepEd order on removal of face veils) stated in its lead: “The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) backed yesterday 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.” Unlike the Luwaran and Inquirer reports, it clarifies at the outset that the order is not for all Muslim women teachers but for those teaching ALIVE only.
It cited NCMF secretary Mehol Sadain as stating the reason for the order – “DepEd Order 32 aims to enhance the effectiveness of ustadja or ALIVE teachers.” Acting NCMF Regional Director (Region IX) Dennisson Abidin corroborated Sadain.
In the report Luistro clarified the order was a “request” and “[i]f they [the ustadja] feel strongly about it, then they won’t be forced to do it. There will be no penalties imposed.”
Unfortunately, DepEd Order No. 32, s. 2013 was misreported. In blowing up a part while glossing over the whole, the reports set off a controversy making sensational headline at the sacrifice of the proper understanding of the Order.
DepED Order No. 32, s. 2013 is entitled, “Reiterating DECS Order No. 53, s. 2001 (Strengthening the Protection of Religious Rights of Students). In parenthesis is the title of DECS (Department of Education, Culture and Sports) Order issued on July 10, 2001.
Section 1 of DepED Order restates in toto Section 1 of DECS Order: “Pursuant to the constitutional guarantee on the rights of citizens to freedom of religion and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, creed or color, all schools should strive that these rights of students are protected and strengthened.” This is the order in general.
Section 4 of DECS Order states: “In the specific case of Muslim students, the following policies shall be adopted:
a. Female Muslim schoolchildren should be allowed to use their veil or headdress (hijab) inside the school campus;
b. In Physical Education (PE) classes, Muslim girls shall be allowed to wear appropriate clothing in accordance with their religious beliefs; and
c. Muslim students shall not be required to participate in non-Muslim religious rites.”
This section was the response of DECS (Section 3) to a reminder from the National Youth Commission (Section 2) about “the plight of Muslim students attending schools where certain policies and practices infringe on their religious rights”.
DepEd Order adopted this section in toto as Paragraph 2 of its Section 2: “The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos has called for strict implementation of the policy on the right of Muslim Filipino women to wear hijab/veil. Hence, the Department of Education (DepEd) reiterates its policy on the protection of religious rights of students as contained in DECS Order No. 53, s. 2001 entitled Strengthening the Protection of Religious Rights of Students, to wit: (Section 4 of DECS Order follows).
It should be noted that NCMF replaced the Office of Muslim Affairs on August 11, 2008.
Sections 3 and 4 of DepEd Order are new – Section 3, a distinction from Section 2; Section 4 to specifically address the case of ALIVE teachers. ALIVE was integrated into the public schools in school year 2005-2006.
Section 3 states: “Furthermore, while the Department supports and promotes the right of Muslim Filipinos to wear the hijab/veil, it does not compel Muslim Filipino women to wear it.
Section 4 states: “For Muslim Filipino women who are wearing the veil that covers the entire face (ustadja) and have been hired as ALIVE teachers, the following conditions are strongly suggested [Note: “ustadja” as clarified in (b) below is “ALIVE teachers”; the veil referred to is “niqab”]:
a. Wearing such veil covering the entire face is allowed outside the classroom.
b. Once the ustadja is in the classroom she is requested to remove the veil for the following reasons: (i) For proper identification of the teachers by the pupils, thus promoting better teacher-pupil relationship; and (ii) In support of effective language teaching, recognition and discrimination of letters and their sounds are enhanced. Lip formation significantly helps in the correct production of the letter sounds.”
Is DepED Order No. 32 offensive to Islam and Muslims?
First, it aims to protect and strengthen the religious rights of all students. Second, it gives special attention to Muslim students. Third, it makes an exception to the wearing of niqab only by Muslim women ALIVE teachers and only while teaching stating clearly the reasons.
Section 4 is an appeal for professional proficiency without threat of punishment. Can this be reconciled with Islam?
The Star report quoted Sadain: “Women in the Islamic world have a variety of ways of complying with the Quoranic injunctions by using either the hijab, niqab or burqa. This means that a Muslim woman who wears the hijab with her face uncovered, as a matter of preference, complies with the Quoranic dress code for women”.
Sadain implies that niqab wearing Muslim women ALIVE teachers or ustadja can wear hijab while teaching and after that switch back to niqab. By that the ustadja will be true to their profession while still being true to Islam and their being Muslim. Being the NCMF commissioner, Sadain’s statement carries weight.
DepED Order No. 32, s. 2013 understands Islam and the Quoranic dress code for women and is understanding toward Muslim women teachers. Secretary Luistro has nothing to reconsider. Unfortunately, Section 4 reported in media without proper understanding stirred up emotions and controversy obscuring the real purpose of the Order.