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Tax exemption for Philippine Muslim schools and worship sites proposed

There are an estimated 2,000 Islamic schools or madrasas nationwide

Gulf News

Manila: A committee that is studying changes in the 1987 Constitution has proposed schools and places of worship of Filipino-Muslims to be exempt from tax, a senior official said, adding this will foster better relations between majority of Filipino Catholics and the Filipino-Muslim minority, most of whom are based in the southern Philippines.

“It has been proposed that the provision of Article VI Section 28 of the 1987 Constitution should read, ‘Charitable institutions, churches, temples, masjids (Muslim places of worship) and parsonages or convents, madrasas (Muslim educational institutions), non-profit cemeteries and all lands, buildings and improvements, actually, directly and exclusive used for religious, charitable or educational purposes shall be exempt from taxation,’” said former associate justice Eduardo Nachura, a member of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) which is in charge of Constitutional change.

The Concom will meet next week to deliberate on the issue, Nachura told Gulf News on Thursday.

There are an estimated 2,000 Islamic schools or madrasas nationwide, more than 50 per cent are in Mindanao, turf of majority of Filipino-Muslims. About 1,200 schools are funded by foreign and local donors. But less than 50 (only 40) are registered with the education department, sources said.

The Philippine government has already forged pro-autonomy peace settlements with the 50-year old Moro National Liberation Front in 1976 and in 1996; and the 40-year old Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014. But several kidnap-for-ransom and terror groups with suspected Al Qaida links are still operating in Mindanao.

Government and Muslim leaders have been shaping a moderate Islamic curriculum to prevent Islamist influences in local madrasas, authorities said.

Since 2005, the education department has introduced a state curriculum for Arabic and Islamic studies in state schools in Muslim-dominated areas outside of Mindanao. In 2011, the Bangsamoro Development Authority (BDA), Community of Learners, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the education department jointly developed the Tahderiyyah (kindergarten) curriculum for preschool Filipino-Muslim students, In 2011, the curriculum was implemented in BDA-managed schools in Metro Manila and in 17 madrasas in war-torn parts of Mindanao.

Even before the Philippine government and MILF signed their pro-autonomy peace settlement in 2014, in 2012, the education department released P250,000 (Dh25,000) grant to every Muslim school to upgrade facilities and implement state curriculum for Filipino-Muslim students.

Former President Benigno Aquino also approved the allocation of P300 million (Dh25 million) in 2012 — from P200 million (Dh16.6 million) in 2010, to fund initiatives for Filipino-Muslim education.

There are 11 per cent or 10.7 million Filipino-Muslims in the Philippines, said the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF). Islam is the second largest religion in the country.

Islam was brought to the Philippines by Muslim traders from Iran, southern India, Malay Archipelago, Indonesia, and Borneo in the 13th century, 200 years before Spain came and introduced Roman Catholicism in the 16th century. In the 1900s, the United States brought in Protestantism. Islam became a minority religion when majority of Filipinos became Catholic and non-Catholic Christians.

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