The pending BBL, which is the implementing legislation for the peace agreement between the government and the MILF, continued to be an important topic of national discussion and was debated in both houses of Congress. It would abolish the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with a new, autonomous regional government, known as the Bangsamoro, in parts of the southern island of Mindanao. The proposed BBL contains specific provisions affirming the right to the freedom and expression of religion and belief and nondiscrimination on account of religion, sect, or ethnicity. The population already has these rights under national legislation. The draft BBL also includes provisions to expand the sharia court system to cover civil, commercial, and criminal law, as well as family law, which will apply only to Muslims.
Muslims, concentrated in some of the most impoverished provinces, continued to state that the government had not made sufficient efforts to promote their economic development, particularly in securing peace and order to encourage additional private investment. Muslims also sought government help in settling contentious land disputes in Mindanao, obtaining greater investment in livelihood programs, and garnering support for agricultural development.
The government stated that it promoted interfaith dialogue to build mutual trust and respect among various religious and cultural groups. For example, the Presidential Task Force on Interreligious and Intercultural Concerns hosted a two‑day international conference on interreligious dialogue in April that gathered people from various religious traditions as well as academics and students from local universities to discuss peace‑building. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Presidential Task Force on Interreligious and Intercultural Concerns continued to monitor issues relating to religious freedom and received no complaints or cases involving the abuse of religious freedom during the year. The NCMF also received no reports of the persecution of Muslims based on their religion.
The NCMF stated it continued to promote the rights of Muslims at both the national and local levels and support economic, educational, cultural, and infrastructure programs for Muslim communities. In April the NCMF conducted its 41st Quran reading competition to determine the champions that would represent the Philippines in various international Quran reading competitions. The NCMF opened a women’s center in July to serve as a resource and training center for Muslim women. In August the NCMF launched the Access to Justice Network (AJN) with the support of the EU‑Philippines Justice Support Programme II (EPJUST II) in eight pilot communities in Palawan which is intended to provide Muslims the capacity to address legal issues through access to referrals. The NCMF’s Bureau of Pilgrimage and Endowment continued to administer logistics for the Hajj, such as obtaining flight schedules, facilitating sheikh accreditation, administering vaccines, coordinating with the Department of Foreign Affairs to process Hajj passports, filing Hajj visa applications at the Saudi Embassy, and conducting pre‑departure orientations for pilgrims. The NCMF reported there were 8,000 pilgrims and 150 members of the supervisory and medical team for the year. It also administered the awqaf, an endowment for the upkeep of Islamic properties and institutions, and continued to oversee establishment and maintenance of Islamic centers and other projects.
The Presidential Task Force on Interreligious and Intercultural Concerns continued to coordinate all interreligious and intercultural concerns and initiatives within the government on behalf of the Office of the President. The Task Force helped coordinate the papal visit in January.
Madrassahs had the option of registering with the NCMF, the Department of Education (DepEd), both, or neither; registration was not mandatory. A total of 75 madrassahs were registered with DepEd. Only registered schools could receive financial assistance from the government. The DepEd’s Office of Madrassah Education managed local and international financial assistance to the private madrassah system. DepEd‑registered schools followed the Standard Madrassah Curriculum and received funding for teachers of the Revised Basic Education Curriculum (RBEC) subjects and for classroom and facility improvements. The DepEd provided 65.8 million pesos ($1.4 million) in financial support to the registered madrassahs, accounting for 13,167 students.
The government continued to implement its unified RBEC curriculum, which partially integrated madrassahs into the national education system. DepEd continued to support the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program to Muslim students in selected public elementary schools. For the school year 2014‑2015, a total of 1,668 public elementary schools administered the ALIVE program, including providing instructional materials and modules. Within those schools, 300,160 elementary students enrolled in the ALIVE program. Although the program provided Muslim youth in secular schools outside of the ARMM an opportunity to learn more about Islam, the NCMF stated the allotted times and availability of ALIVE classes remained insufficient.