PHILIPPINES—In a sweeping anti-racism law signed Thursday, the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation announced it would no longer tolerate any form of racism or discrimination against anyone.
The sweeping measure follows a slew of hate crime cases that have been linked to the country’s rapidly aging Muslim population.
The Philippine law, which went into effect in March, defines hate crimes as “acts of hostility, intimidation, hatred, harassment, or discrimination that are motivated by a hatred of or hostility toward any group of people based on their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, disability, marital status, family status, age or genetic information.”
It also includes hate crimes committed against Filipino-Americans, Filipinos and those who are in the country illegally.
“We’re not targeting any particular religion, ethnicity or group,” said Philippine Attorney General Leila de Lima, who announced the law in a press conference in Manila.
“This is about protecting and safeguarding the rights of all Filipinos, regardless of their ethnic background or their religion.”
The law is a culmination of a campaign launched by the Duterte administration in November 2015, which targeted the Philippines’s largest Muslim population, with a range of hate-crime laws that targeted ethnic Chinese, Japanese, Filipinas and others.
De Lima said in her press conference Thursday that her government would be implementing more hate crimes legislation, including the elimination of Section 16-2 of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2015, known as Section 16, that prohibits hate speech.
Section 16 is designed to prohibit discrimination in the employment, housing, housing facilities and education sectors.
The new law also includes the elimination or reduction of the definition of a hate crime from the criminal code, as well as the definition that excludes the use of violence or threats in criminal proceedings.
“These changes are part of a broader strategy to fight against the spread of hate and extremism,” De Lima stated.
“The Philippine government has implemented several important steps to fight hate and discrimination, and we have taken steps to remove discriminatory language and acts from our criminal code.”
The government’s effort to fight anti-Muslim sentiment began after President Rodrigo Duterte made comments in December 2015 that appeared to justify the murder of the Uighur Muslim minority, which has been in a state of fear in China for centuries.
“I’m talking about the Uyghur people,” Duterte said in a TV interview.
“You have been living under Islamic rule for so long, and you are no longer Muslim.
You are no more, and I am speaking about you, so we should not be killing you.”
Later that month, he also called for a crackdown on Muslim communities, in an interview with local media.
In the wake of the deadly attacks in New York City, the Trump administration took action to protect Muslims.
The president signed a proclamation declaring April 20, 2021, the International Day Against Hatred and Discrimination against Muslims.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new law.
The Philippines has also taken the unprecedented step of declaring April 6, a national holiday, a day of mourning and prayer for victims of the attacks in the U.S. and New York.
The government has also enacted a series of anti-discrimination measures, including anti-extremism training and guidance, and an anti-terrorism law.
In December, Duterte also signed a law banning the promotion of radical ideologies.
It is not the first time the Philippines has taken such a bold stance in the fight against anti-Semitism.
In 2015, the government launched a series and targeted a number of anti, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, racist and misogynistic hate-speech laws.
“All of the laws and regulations related to hate speech and hate crimes, whether they are the laws against racism, xenophobia, or anti-religious hate, are a matter of priority for the government,” De La Rosa said.
“To prevent and respond to such acts of discrimination, we are taking the necessary measures.”
Philippines-based anti-hate activist Jocelyn Garcia said in an email that the new legislation is an excellent step in addressing the increasing incidence of hate crimes in the Philippines.
“However, in the case of the new anti-anti-racists law, the real threat is the one that the government is not addressing: that is the rising number of hate groups and the lack of political will from the government to address the rising threat of hate,” Garcia said.
As a result, she said, the Philippine government needs to take measures that address the increasing number of such groups.
“It’s time to do more to combat the rise of hate speech in the society, and to create space and space for people to be free to express their opinions in the streets, and not to be silenced by the government