Safety First: discrimination at Philippine schools and work places


Writers: Angel Almeda, K Ballesteros
Editor: K Ballesteros
Researchers: Angel Almeda
Creatives: Jacklyn Moral, Klein Xavier Boiser, Krystle Labio
Moderators: Richardson Mojica, Marga Miñon, Eula Mei Labordo, Brigida Candelaria
Spaces: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Richardson Mojica, Azie Libanan, K Ballesteros, Roy Dahildahil

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), discrimination is the unfair and prejudicial treatment of people and groups based on characteristics such as race, gender, age, or sexual orientation [3]. Other organizations have expanded their understanding of discrimination by including religion or belief, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy status, and disability to these parameters. In Philippine schools and workplaces, the Department of Education (DEPED) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) have both taken steps to ensure that discrimination does not harm students and employees. 

Discrimination often occurs in two different forms: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination is easier to spot, because it involves recognizable actions against an individual or a group. Indirect discrimination includes “applying a provision or practice in the same way for all of a group which has the effect of unfairly disadvantaging people in the group who share a particular characteristic” [5]. Whereas direct discrimination works against an individual, indirect discrimination occurs against an entire group of people who share a specific background, trait, or characteristic. 

Early in 2021, the DepEd issued an official statement that makes firm the Department’s stance against discrimination: “guided by international and national frameworks on equality, we have released various issuances and conducted [a] series of trainings to uphold a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination” [8]. Discrimination harms an individual’s mental wellbeing and schools are particularly vulnerable. At school–the place where young people and children are socialized–the direct link between mental wellbeing and discrimination is most apparent. According to a 2018 study on everyday discrimination, negative emotions, and academic achievement, Jesus Alfonso D. Datu claims that everyday discrimination was linked to negative emotions and to perceived academic achievement [7]. This is especially apparent in indigeous communities who have “long been suffering from discrimination and lack of access to Education” [11]. Indigenous Peoples experience indirect discrimination most keenly. The medium of instruction is a major factor of an overt discriminatory policy: “English remains the widely used medium of instruction in most IP curricula” [11] despite different communities’ level of fluency.  

Safeguarding employees in work spaces, the DOLE’s Bureau of Working Conditions (DOLE-BWC) performs policy and program development related to working conditions. The BWC “envisions well-guided employers and workers committed to a safe, healthful, and productive work environment” [9]  in compliance with the local employment and labor laws and regulations. The labor code protects employees from discrimination against women and persons with disabilities, and protects against discriminatory practices based on age and sexual harassment [9 & 2]. 

 However: despite legislation and implementing policies meant to safeguard the mental wellbeing of students and employees, discriminatory practices in schools and workplaces persist. Discriminating against a person makes a space unsafe for vulnerable individuals, and creates a hazardous school and work environment for everyone. Effectively, this means that ensuring individual safety is everyone’s concern.  

Acknowledging discrimination as it happens 

Filipinos deserve safe spaces to develop themselves, and to contribute to society. To remain healthy individually, and as part of the community, mental health plays a vital role to support work and studies. Unfortunately, despite system-level interventions, discrimination occurs daily in the form of microaggressions or smaller, less obvious discriminatory acts. 

Brondolo et al.,  list examples of microaggressions, including: snubs, receiving poorer service at stores and restaurants, being treated with less courtesy, and receiving misguided comments that suggest a person doesn’t belong, or comments that invalidate an individual’s experiences [3]. Smart-shaming and anti-intellectualism may also qualify as a form of discrimination, because this practice invalidates an individual’s contribution and invalidates ideas that go against the grain [14, 17] and may exclude an individual from a group. These microaggressions are subtle, easy to commit on a daily basis, and are more difficult to catch as they occur, and may have an accrued impact on an individual’s mental wellbeing.  

Staying wary of experiencing discrimination is itself a source of stress. It’s no wonder, therefore, that discrimination is linked strongly to higher levels of stress, and poorer physical and mental health [19]. In the Asia Pacific region, this is especially troubling because bullying remains the “most prevalent form of violence against LGBT youth in educational settings” [18].

For those with mental health issues, “stigma towards people with mental illness in the Philippines is rampant” [16]. According to a review of mental health stigma (2017), lack of sensitivity, stigmatizing attitudes, and discriminatory policies are still prevalent in private households, at schools, at work, and in healthcare settings [16]. For those who live with different mental health issues, the effect of experiencing discrimination — the reluctance to seek help, feeling isolated, fewer opportunities for work, school and other social opportunities, and the inability to remain hopeful [15] — may contribute to and aggravate the symptoms of their illness, and further prevent recovery. 

For another vulnerable demographic, LGBTQIA+ students may regularly experience discrimination at school. In an article published by Rappler, Ronnel Joseph T. Competente [6] describes how heternormative policies negatively impact students’ mental wellbeing: “this experience of heterosexuality within schools often serves to silence or further marginalize gender non-conforming and queer and questioning students, teachers, and administrators”. Competente describes the narrow requirements with which students are often forced to comply in order to ‘fit in’ or stay out of trouble as “rarely challenged or disrupted” [6]. The educator cites the gender-insensitivity of the current DEPED curriculum among forms of discrimination, together with the culture of bullying, and persisting anti-LGBTQIA+ policies such as required haircuts, masculinity tests, and “even instances when LGBTQIA+ people were made to sign ‘contracts’ to ensure they did not express their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression [SOGIE]” [6]. 

The Council of Europe’s campaign to tackle discrimination [5] urges schools to respond to students’ experiences by enforcing the use of inclusive language, encouraging the discussion of controversial issues, promoting student involvement by giving students channels to voice their concerns, and forming partnerships with different organizations and groups in the local community.

Safety and Wellness at work 

A person should feel safe in a place that they treat as their second home. Workplaces and schools are remarkable in their capacity to create venues where people from diverse backgrounds can meet and collaborate towards common goals. DOLE’s Guidelines for the Implementation of Mental Health Workplace Policies and Programs for the Private Sector applies to all workplaces and establishments including Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). The law seeks to “raise awareness, prevent stigma and discrimination, provide support to workers who are at risk and/or with mental health condition and facilitate access to medical health services” [10]. However: Filipinos still experience different forms of discrimination and stigma at work, or in the process of securing a job. For example: private companies across industries still enforce age-based discrimination despite laws that protect against the policy.  

Within workplaces, socio-cultural relations may stymie the implementation of existing laws; according to the Brandolo et. al., individuals often choose not to report experiences of discrimination when they doubt their own experiences [3]. According to a UCLA professor Vickie Mays: “when people are chronically treated differently, unfairly or badly, it can have effects ranging from low self-esteem to a higher risk for developing stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression,” [12]. Mays describes how discrimination can cause a domino effect, affecting the larger community. For this reason, the APA recommends turning to a support network who can “provide a reality check and a sounding board” to validate experiences of discrimination, and to provide feedback and assurance [3]. Being mindful and observant at work can benefit the entire organization, and those who are most vulnerable to experiencing discriminatory practices. 

A larger concern around workplace discrimination concerns Filipinos who live with HIV. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Philippines has the fastest-growing HIV infection rate in Southeast Asia and in the Asia-Pacific region [13], but discrimination against Filipinos with HIV remains largely unmonitored and unaddressed. Interviews conducted with 33 individuals revealed forced resignations, and difficulty with finding jobs. According to the report, employers are likely to withdraw offers of employment during pre-employment health screenings should potential employees test positive for HIV [13]. 

Against Discrimination, For Safety 

Those who experience discrimination should seek support systems who can validate their worth and help reframe negative and false beliefs. Individuals, organizations, and schools can work together to address discriminatory practices, and develop truly inclusive, safe environments [3]. For students and young professionals, here are a few individual-level recommendations in response to discriminatory practices: 

  • Mark yourself as a safe person: This #UsapTayo, we’re including a badge that should help identify yourself as a safe person for those who may experience discrimination in one way, shape, or form. If you are able, invite members of your community to speak and share their experiences of discrimination, which should help promote open communication. 
  • Hold space: Holding space means allowing others to be heard by responding to their narratives in a kind, empathetic manner. Holding space must include establishing boundaries and ground rules for conversations and behaviors [1] which are also the distinctive characteristics of safe spaces.  
  • Talk about difficult topics: Sometimes, people will need to know that a safe space exists before they feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Volunteering to be vulnerable, and to share your story, empowers others to talk about difficult situations. Discourse, discussion, and solutions can come out of these open dialogues.

Guide Questions: 

  1. How do different forms of discrimination look like in our schools? In professional settings?
  2. How can we educate our co-workers or classmates about forms of discrimination?
  3. How can we reach out to those who have experienced discrimination?




[1] Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice. In L. M. Landreman (Ed.), The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice educators (pp. 135–149). essay, Stylus Publishing, LLC. 

[2] An Act Creating An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Defining Its Powers and Composition, And Appropriating Funds (2019). bill. 

[3] Brondolo, E., Mays, V., Jackson, J. S., & Jones, J. M. (n.d.). Discrimination: What it is, and how to cope. Retrieved from:  

[4] Canillas, R., & Manaloto, S. (2020, March 17). Philippines: Mandate on Workplace Mental Health Policies, programs. Willis Towers Watson. Retrieved November 18, 2021, from

[5] Council of Europe. (n.d.). Improving well-being at school. Democratic Schools for All. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[6] Competente, R. J. T. (2020, February 17). [opinion] the need for our schools to be homonormative. Rappler. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[7] Datu, Jesus Alfonso. (2018). Everyday discrimination, negative emotions, and academic achievement in Filipino secondary school students: Cross-sectional and cross-lagged panel investigations. Journal of School Psychology. 68. 10.1016/j.jsp.2018.04.001. 

[8] Department of Education, Official Statement On Addressing Discrimination (n.d.). Retrieved from 

[9] Department of Labor and Employment. (n.d.). About the DOLE Bureau of Working Conditions. DOLE Bureau of Working Conditions. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[10] Department of Labor and Employment. (2020, February 11). Department order 208-20 guidelines for the implementation of mental health workplace policies and programs for the private sector. Department of Labor and Employment. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[11] Eduardo, J. P., & Gabriel, A. G. (2021). Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Education: The Dumagat Experience in the Provinces of Nueva Ecija and Aurora, in the Philippines. SAGE Open.

[12] Gordon, D. (2016, January 14). Discrimination can be harmful to your mental health. UCLA. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[13] Human Rights Watch [HCW]. (2020, October 28). Discrimination against workers with HIV. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[14] Madrazo-Sta. Romana, J. J. (2015, July 6). Smart-shaming and our Pinoy culture of anti-intellectualism. GMA News Online. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[15] Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, May 24). Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[16] Rivera, Ana Kriselda & Antonio, Carl. (2017). Mental Health Stigma Among Filipinos: Time For A Paradigm Shift. 

[17] Sison, S. (2015, October 15). What’s up with the smart-shaming? Rappler. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[18] Thoreson, R. (2020, October 28). The Philippines affirmed equal rights in schools – now it should protect them. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved November 19, 2021, from 

[19] Wofford, N., Defever, A. M., & Chopik, W. J. (2019). The vicarious effects of discrimination: How partner experiences of discrimination affect individual health. Social psychological and personality science, 10(1), 121–130.


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