“Strengthening and developing the Madrasah system is one way of bridging the gap between Muslims and Christians,” Pangilinan said.

By Rexcel Sorza, IOL Correspondent

MANILA, November 18 (IslamOnline.net) – A senior leader of the Philippine Senate vowed on Thursday, November 18, to push for a legislation that would strengthen and develop the Madrasah system of education to make it more accessible for thousands of young Filipino Muslims.

“The Constitution mandates that we must protect and promote the rights of all citizens to quality education at all levels,” Senate Majority leader Francis Pangilinan told IslamOnline.net.

“Regardless of our religious convictions, every Filipino has the same equal right to quality education.”

Pangilinan is the sponsor of the Senate Bill No. 1410 also known as the “Fund Assistance to Madrasah Education Act of 2002.”

It aims to enrich and harmonize the Madrasah system to make it compatible and at par with the formal education system.

The bill addresses infrastructure development, nutrition and feeding program, classroom facilities, textbook assistance funds, scholarship grants, education loan fund, in-service training fund for teachers and scholarship grants to children of teachers.

Madrasah, the Muslim equivalent to the Christian education system, has pre-school, basic education and higher education levels.

There are 1,171 Madrasahs in the country offering basic education, 40 percent of them in Mindanao.

However, only 54 Madrasahs are accredited by the Department of Education.

Bridging Gaps

The bill and the upgrading of the Madrasahs are seen as part of an efforts to bridge gabs between Muslims and the Christian majority.

“Strengthening and developing the Madrasah system is one way of bridging the gap between Muslims and Christians,” Pangilinan said.

A recent survey by the independent and popular polling firm, the Social Weather Stations (SWS), said 52% of 1,200 respondents gave Islam a positive view.

“One way of addressing the issues in Mindanao is to focus on the issue of Muslim education and to empower the Muslim youth to take charge in reshaping Mindanao,” Pangilinan said.

“With this piece of legislation, we hope to make a big impact in the lives of our Muslim brothers and sisters. No short-term patching will ever come close to developing the Muslim education system,” he said.

The top lawmaker stressed: “The Madrasah is the very institution that molds the minds and spirits of our Muslim youth. Strengthening these institutions would mean a better future for the people of Mindanao.”

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is a region located in the southern portion of Mindanao and includes the mainland provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and the traditional island centers of Muslim economic, political and cultural activities: Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the Sulu archipelago.

It covers 12,000 square kilometers, an area about four percent of the country’s total land area, and has a population of more than two million, predominantly Muslims.

Considered the 15th region of the Philippines, it was created on November 6, 1990 by Republic Act 6734 during the administration of then Philippine President Corazon Aquino, to end the struggle of Moro National Liberation Front for an independent Islamic state in southern Philippines.