A measure being proposed in a northern Philippine province that would require minority Muslims to apply for identification cards is discriminatory and dangerous, local rights activists and legislators said Monday.
Police officials and local leaders last week discussed the possibility of implementing this policy in Tarlac province, amid fears that fighting between government forces and Islamic State-inspired militants in the southern city of Marawi could spread to other parts of the predominantly Catholic Philippines.
Officials said that a mandatory identification card system, which could help them track the movements of militants, was implemented in Paniqui city in the northern Philippines about three weeks ago. Police there want the measure widened to include other parts of the region, where about 25,000 Muslims live.
“That is locally initiated. That is not mandated by the (police) leadership,” Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, the nation’s police chief, told reporters, adding that he did not see anything illegal there. “It’s like police are just recording the people coming into your village.”
The fighting in Marawi, which began on May 23, has emptied the city on Mindanao island of its 200,000 residents. Thousands of those who left are either in various evacuation camps, or have joined relatives staying in the northern Philippines or other parts of the country.
Carlos Conde, a Philippine researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the move being considered in Tarlac reflected “the government’s shortsightedness and lack of appreciation of Muslim cultural sensitivities.”
“Muslims in the Philippines have suffered not just from state and rebel violence but also from discrimination for far too long,” Conde told BenarNews. “This proposal needs to be rejected in the strongest terms.”
He said Muslims in the northern provinces do not speak for their brothers affected by the fighting in the south, and the government appears to be using this supposed initiative “to violate the rights” of Muslims in other areas.
“The Muslims-only ID system is blatantly discriminatory because it singles out a particular group,” he said, adding it could also lead to violations of a person’s basic rights, including equal protection of the law and freedom of movement.
About 6 percent of the country’s more than 100 million population are Muslims, most of them living in the southern Philippines, according to official statistics.
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