The Philippines Department of Education recently solidified its support of freedom of religious expression for students wishing to be exempt from Saturday school classes and activities.
A department order released last month is already allowing Seventh-day Adventist students to successfully petition teachers for exemption from Saturday classes and exams. The order is a follow-up to a January memo granting exemption for Adventist members working as Education Department personnel from attending professional development and exams held on Saturdays.
"I am glad [this order] came and I am sure our students will greatly rejoice over this new development," said Jonathan Catolico, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the denomination's Southern Asia-Pacific region.
The October 14 order said in part: "Personnel and students belonging to any religious group where Saturday is their rest or 'church day,' should not be required to attend seminars, examinations, special classes, trainings and other school activities on Saturdays... ."
The order also states that students who incur absences on Saturdays due to religious worship will not have their grades reduced.
Catolico credited Congresswoman Daryl Grace Abayon, whom he said had received complaints from Adventist students who felt excluded by the January memo. Abayon wrote to Education Secretary Armin Luistro to address the concerns, Catolico said.
Several students have already made use of the order. "It helped me to explain to my teachers that Adventists are worshipping on Saturdays, and now I am exempted on my Saturday classes," said Ralph Waldo Camay Realisan, a fourth-year student at Young Achievers International School in Manila.
Care Mae Aguirre, a student at E. Rodriguez High School, said her grades had been reduced after the school required Saturday classes last year following school time lost to typhoons. "This [order] will cause a great relief for the students that are worrying too much about their studies," she said.
Her father, Eric Aguirre, a member of PUC Remnant Adventist Church, said, "As parents, through this order, we will no longer have to explain to the teachers why our children must be in the church, not in the school."
"I hope that through this, we can teach the Adventist students to stand for the Sabbath," Aguirre said.
--Click here to read a PDF version of the order