May 11, 2011
Discrimination exists in our society. This is a statement we can either refute--if we want to keep on turning a blind eye to this form of injustice; or accept--if we are to face the reality, thus, this Anti-Discrimination bill that I am putting forward for this Chamber's unanimous support.
From January 2009 - April 2011, 90 cases of discrimination were filed with the Commission on Human Rights, 71% ( or 64 cases) of which came from Mindanao, home to approximately 63% or approximately 9 million of our Indigenous Peoples population.
This number may seem insignificant if we are to consider that there are more than 90 million citizens in this country. But one has to take note that these are the reported cases. A person who was subjected to discrimination may not have the strength to file a case and would likely keep it to himself rather than endure the same feeling of humiliation while narrating his experience to the authorities. Victims of discrimination would simply nurture the pain in their hearts as it gradually transforms them into individuals who are afraid to fight for their rights, uncertain of their own capabilities and of what they can achieve in life.
No less than our Constitution states that, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws." It specifically provides that the State has the mandate to protect any person - an all-encompassing term that applies equally to all human beings, regardless of their racial, ethnic or religious affiliation.
When we entered into an international commitment to end racial discrimination with the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), we have also made this Convention a part of the law of the land. Our country is also a member of the United Nations General Assembly, which has passed: (1) the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; (2) the 1993 UN GA Resolution on Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance; and 3) The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - all of which provide for non-discrimination based on race, ethnicity, social origin or religious belief.
Despite this, we remain a nation that throws all forms of bias and prejudice at those who we perceive to be "different" from the majority.
It is even more alarming that the Philippine Government, in its 20th Periodic Report to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2008, has made an official stand that, "Racial discrimination is alien to the prevailing mores and culture of the Filipino People" and that, "Racial discrimination has never officially or factually existed in the Philippines, neither in a systemic nor formal nor intermittent nor isolated manner" because "Filipinos have essentially the same racial and ethnic origins."
As response to the Philippine Government's 15th-20th ICERD Periodic Report, a broad alliance of Indigenous Peoples organizations and support groups submitted a consolidated "Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines ICERD Shadow Report" to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 2009. It cited incidences of militarization, enforced disappearances, harassment, and extra-judicial killings, which has led to discrimination against the right to security of persons, right against illegal searches and seizures, right to protection by the State and right against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
A Pulse Asia Survey in 2005, which was incorporated in the 2005 Philippine Human Development Report of the United National Development Programme (UNDP), also revealed that 55% of Filipinos think that Muslims are prone to run amok. 47% believe that Muslims are terrorists or extremists and that 44% think that Muslims harbor hatred towards non-Muslims. What is sad about these numbers is that these beliefs persist, despite the fact that of the 1,200 respondents in the survey, only 14% could cite firsthand encounters with Muslims.
A 2009 story from a news magazine also narrated how Muslim nursing students in a university in Zamboanga City were asked to wear the standard short-sleeved white dress, thereby exposing more skin and were prohibited from putting on their sacred veil or "hijab" - a school policy that is directly against their religious belief.
These realities demonstrate to us that the socialization of our people via education and other sources like media, our peer groups, and even the church, has not been successful in inculcating the view that we are all equal as species of the homo sapiens. The Human Genome Researches which are mapping the human DNA have equally demonstrated that if we peel off our differently colored skin - whether black, white, yellow or violet - we are all the same underneath. In fact, we would be hard pressed to find an empirical reference for the word "race".
The underpinning of any form of discrimination is the social construction of "race"--a word used to render other people, groups and other collectives, even nations, as inferior and not having the qualities that will enable them to participate actively in any endeavor. Race is a concept used to isolate and render powerless collectivities by ascribing to them attributes which cannot be defended. Race makes the airport personnel pick out from a crowd for more body searches and frisking those who are bearded or wearing the hijab. Race will direct, many times subconsciously, to that airport personnel not to pick out for frisking the one wearing a tie, a woman wearing a suit with pearls or one carrying a Louis Vuitton bag. Race is subject to one's own interpretation which cannot be defended on any ground and thus, needs to be eliminated in all its varied manifestations.
But before we eliminate it, its existence has to be acknowledged. Sadly, the government's stand on the non-existence of racial or ethnic discrimination clearly underscores the reality in society - that discrimination is not acknowledged, is not even given a face, despite the glaring fact that it exists in many places in our country and it actually occurs on a regular basis.
But even with such a denial, we have a myriad of laws that seek to address the issue of discrimination and racial profiling. These are scattered in different pieces of legislation - some in the Revised Penal Code, the Civil Code, the Labor Code, and special laws - leading to disjointed and weak policies as well as difficulty in implementation.
Our committee is submitting for the body's consideration, the "Act Prohibiting Profiling as well as Discrimination Against Persons on Account of Ethnic or Racial Origin and/or Religious Affiliation or Belief."
This proposed legislation seeks to promote a society that values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. It seeks to fulfill our international commitment under the ICERD, to ensure its full application in our national legal system through the creation of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law with substantial penal provisions.
Allow me to enumerate its key features:
The "Anti- Discrimination Act of 2011" shall penalize acts of discrimination in the following fields: employment, education, delivery of goods, facilities and services, accommodation, transportation, media, and in search and investigatory activities.
Any person, group, institution or company, both public and private, including those who request, induce, encourage and authorize or assist others to commit acts of discrimination or profiling, will be held liable for the penalties provided under this bill.
To give teeth to this measure, a person who is found guilty--for instance, of the act of a media personality using the name of an ethnic group in a joke for a television program--shall serve between nine months and twelve years in prison, and/or will be obliged to pay between Php100,000 to Php500,000.
We want a serious campaign against all forms of racial and religious discrimination through this measure.
Thus, to ensure compliance of this Act, agencies, corporations, companies and educational institutions, whether private or public, shall be mandated to create an Equal Opportunity Committee, which shall have administrative jurisdiction over cases involving discrimination and racial profiling.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as lead institution, in coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Department of Health (DOH), the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), shall have the duty of preventing or deterring the commission of acts of discrimination and racial profiling and will provide for the procedures for the resolution, settlement, or prosecution of acts of discrimination and racial profiling as well as the creation of Equal Opportunity Committees in every agency, corporation, education institution within their jurisdictions.
We need to acknowledge that discrimination exists before we can eliminate it for we cannot eradicate something that is considered a ghost by others.
We need an effective and comprehensive legal framework if we are to start the fight against discrimination and racial profiling.
We also have the gargantuan task of harmonizing our policies, building capacities of agencies, and strengthening enforcement and prosecution.
We must strive to transform our society into an open-minded and sensitive community where no child is subjected to name-calling because of his distinct looks; we must build a nation where each individual's beliefs and principles are respected and everyone is given equal opportunity to achieve his full potential as a person and as a Filipino citizen.
Mr. President, it is on this score that I call on the support of my colleagues in this august chamber for the measure I am sponsoring to provide a lasting and effective solution to the prevalent plague of discrimination.
Tuesday, January 17