Statement of CHR Spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on respecting the religious and cultural rights of Muslim Filipinos amid the pandemic

Statement of CHR Spokesperson, Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on respecting the religious and cultural rights of Muslim Filipinos amid the pandemic

The Muslim community is among those facing multiple vulnerabilities amid the coronavirus-19 (Covid-19) pandemic. The current health crisis amplify their vulnerability given that they are a religious minority; their region is beset with frequent conflict and displacement; and, they are still in the process of healing from the vestiges of historical injustices.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recognizes the religious exemptions given by the interagency task force to Muslim Covid-19 victims, which primarily pertain to exemptions from cremation. This reflects the respect accorded to their religion and culture. We hope that this consideration already extends to all other Muslim religious and cultural considerations such as food preference, prayer rituals, among others. As we have previously stressed, restrictions and stringent measures are justified. However, reasonable means for citizens to exercise their religious and cultural rights should still be ensured to the extent possible.

In Marawi and certain areas in Mindanao where many Muslims still reside in evacuation centers, there is a need to address the crowded and fragile living arrangement. We urge the government to ensure special attention is provided to them considering the difficulties they may encounter in terms of access to health services and relief assistance, which are readily available to general population.

Access to nutrition, sufficient food supply, potable water, sanitation facilities, healthcare, and adequate shelter for the displaced Muslims must be ensured considering the rapid increase of Covid-19 cases. It is also crucial to diligently conduct contact tracing and monitoring of surviving kin of Covid-19 victims given the greater vulnerability in evacuation centers. Muslim frontliners and humanitarian actors who risk their health and safety also need to be provided with protective clothing and equipment, sufficient support, and due compensation.

Inclusive approach to the pandemic is essential to be able to heal as one. The different religion, cultural groups, and regional context in our country entail specific response and considerations. In this way, we can continue to honor the dignity and unique identities of our fellow Filipinos while protecting their health and safety. ###