RIWAYA: Bongao nursing students defend right to wear hijab at Lung Center

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 May) — Eleven nursing students from Mahardika Institute of Technology (MIT) of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi opted to assert proactively their right to wear hijab in the premises of the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) in Quezon City despite their dismay when informed by its Department Assistant Head Nurse, Glenda L. Picardal (RN, MAN, MM, MPA, PhD), a day before their Related Learning Experience (RLE) practicum that they may be allowed to report for duty only if they take off their head veils (khimar) once they are inside the premises of Ward TB.

According to one of the MIT nursing students, Elyanra S. Utoeglis, Picardal  informed them that no matter how much she wanted to accommodate them, she was just following the LCP policy of not allowing nursing students to wear head veils in the course of their RLE duty.  Picardal, according to Utoeglis,  told them their nursing skills will be affected consequently if they refuse to comply with the Center’s policy albeit she did not furnish the students a copy of it for reference.
The other MIT students who are with Utoeglis at the Lung Center are: Fatima Sherwina P. Sarail, Fatima Sarah J. Ratag, Fatima Sandra J. Ratag, Tadzmahal M. Salih, Darwina U. Dail, Ferdilyn A. Igno, Ayang Samlia T. Alam, Nadzwa B. Ahmad, Nurdiya T. Abduhasan and Carmina I. Usil.

However, Utoeglis informed me that in their RLE duty at the Philippine Children’s Hospital, Philippine Orthopedic Center, National Center for Mental Health, Veterans Memorial Medical Center- they were not required by any head nurse to remove their head veils.

The hijab issue infringes not only a substantial human right but their very well-being because it is integral to their code of life, Islam. For these Muslim students, it was not just a consternating choice of taking off their hijab temporarily but most of all, an appalling dilemma of exposing a private part (juyubihinna excepting the face and hands): a crucial choice between career or obedience to Allah.

Not losing their equanimity under simultaneous spiritual and professional pressure, Elyanra and her friends sensibly thought of winning both!

They had the presence of mind to inform their College Dean Arvie E. Arrieta of their plight but because she was in Bongao; they also decided to contact the Chairman of the Federation of Muslim Students Association(FMSA-Manila Chapter), Alnajib B. Maujon, who in turn contacted me via long distance call to Davao City- and the rest is “synaptic” history: from android to messenger to Facebook to email and to international call! The interactive response to resolve the issue in a collaborative effort is overwhelming! It reached the ears of MIT President-CEO Sambas Hassan who immediately ordered Arrieta to be at LCP asap to resolve their students’ dilemma.

Nonetheless, I felt a foreboding sense of déjà vu while listening to the account of Maujon,  FMSA Chair and also the Director of Markaz at-Tazkiyah and my partner network in the Hijaab-Niqaab Advocacy Network (HAN).

My initial reaction was: this case could easily have been resolved by mere compliance of Department of Health (DOH) memorandum 0107 series of 2009 signed by then Health Secretary Dr. Francisco T. Duque III dated 29 April 2009; of which strict compliance was reiterated by Dr Nemesio T. Gako, by virtue of Memo No. 2011-0232, which he issued on 16 August 2011 in his capacity as assistant secretary of DOH.

However, how could a medical staff comply if he or she is ignorant of said memo? Surely, ignorance of department memo – just like law-  excuses no one from compliance therewith.

DOH Memorandum No. 2009—0107 Re: Strengthening the Protection of Religious Rights of Muslim workers including but not limited to Students and Trainees in health facilities is addressed to all undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, bureau/service center for health development directors, chief of specialty/special/retained and renationalized hospitals and president/executive director of attached agencies.

“In view hereof, all healthcare institutions, both public and private are advised to review and ensure that their policies are sensitive to the religious rights of healthcare workers, students and trainees. The DOH advises the healthcare institutions to observe the following policies:  Muslim female workers should be allowed to use their veil (hijab) and wear their prescribed mode of dressing inside the premises of all healthcare institutions, especially, in areas such as the wards, operating room, intensive care units and burn units, among others. However, this mode of dressing can be modified to conform to the prescribed uniform of health institution in accordance with its rules and regulations concerning infection control and aseptic techniques but still observing the religious rights of Muslim workers.” SOURCE: DOH Department Memorandum 2009-0107 (addendum to the DOH Department Memorandum 2009-0107: Strengthening the Protection of Religious Rights of Muslim Workers, Including but not limited to Students and Trainees in Health Facilities)

Instantaneously, I sought permission from Mudir Maujon to verify names of those involved including other pertinent details of such incident and to post it at FB after agreeing with him that said students must be given a copy of DOH Memo 0107 immediately.

Right after posting on my wall, apart from netizens’ private and public comments bordering on indignation and empathy, the most helpful reaction was one from Atty Carole Pontanal who not only commented but also sent me via messenger some pdf files of DOH memoranda and other pertinent issuances relating to the Muslim women’s right to wear hijab and niqaab; saving us time to retrieve old files! These, we immediately screenshot and circulated to multiple accounts on fb and by email.

Without any intention of preempting the official visit of the MIT College Dean of Nursing with special instruction from CEO Hassan, the students are hoping that the misunderstanding will be cleared by the simple initiative of showing the DOH memo to the assistant head nurse at LCP along with a copy of letter of intercession from the FMSA-Manila Chapter chairman addressed to her.

Worth mentioning was the buoying up vigilance of another HAN partner, Al Madzhar J. Ahmadul, a correspondent of Riwaya international based in Doha, Qatar to digitally monitor social media response live, and to even possibly interview those nursing students via skype.

“It’s 2017! In this age of internet and social media resulting to explosion of information no one is excused from being ignorant of the memos or for being a bigot,” Ahmadul said wryly. He added that Muslims must neither be complacent nor reactionary against discrimination and human rights violation but must be proactive, resourceful, and must take the initiative to break free from the shackles of victimhood and defeatism.

At past midnight while writing this article, we received positive news from another HAN partner in the social media loop, Anna Leah Dilangalen Dipatuan, a senior law student and an employee of DOH-Central Office, Health Human Resource Development Bureau.

In the spirit of diplomacy and dialogue, she promptly connected with LCP Chief Nurse Elvie Baura whose prudent response was to validate and clarify information from the assistant head nurse because Baura herself is not aware that such policy on hijab ban exists. Baura agreed with Ms Dipatuan’s suggestion that the MIT nursing students must bring a copy of the pertinent DOH memo and present it to the Assistant head nurse on the day of their first day of duty at LCP.

I personally feel that the eleven nursing students’ narrative is one among the muted voices struggling in the midst of paranoia, intolerance, and bigotry. But undaunted these young Muslim ladies used a peaceful tool that they innately got to break the barriers: the power of faith and the freedom of speech. It is relevant to amplify it because it is one among the multifarious issues that we must co-own. The hijab issue must be identified because it exists.

Indeed, it’s 2017 but sadly the discrimination against hijab keeps recurring. The National Commission of Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has launched the Legal Handbook for Muslim Communities in the Philippines in 2014 but there are still incident reports of violation or non-compliance of legal issuance such as order and memoranda signed by government agencies such as the National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Health; worst, violations against wearing of either hijaab or niqaab are committed by the very agency (ies) which issued them in the first place.

The most challenging justification by some of them is that why would some Muslims refuse to take off their veil when others would easily comply. Perhaps, “easily” yes but there surely is duress and those who complied were vulnerably vitiated of reason and will under the circumstances. Nonetheless, it must be remembered that under the law, the right not to veil is at par to the right to veil. (Warina Sushil A. Jukuy is coordinator  of  PAHRA-Western Mindanao, convenor of Hijaab Niqab Advocacy and paralegal worker cum chef at Al Hamdulillah restaurant in Davao City)

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