PHILIPPINES authorities have been accused of discrimination following a proposal to impose a mandatory identification card system for Muslims in the country’s Central Luzon Region.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said such a policy, announced this week, threatened to single out Muslims in the predominantly Catholic country amid the government’s effort to combat terrorism.
“The IDs could also violate the rights to equal protection of the law, freedom of movement as well as other basic rights,” researcher at HRW’s Asia Division Carlos H. Conde said in a statement on Thursday.
“ID requirements for Muslims should be rejected outright.”
The identification system would be imposed on Central Luzon’s minority Muslim community of 26,000 people.
According to Conde, Central Luzon Police Superintendent Aaron Aquino sought to justify the Muslim-only ID as a means to “identify and weed out undesirable individuals and terrorists.”
The proposal follows the move by authorities in the town of Paniqui, Tarlac province, who have implemented such ID cards. Some local governments now see it as “best practice” that should be emulated by the seven provinces in Central Luzon.
The calls for a Muslim identification system have emerged in light of the ongoing fighting in Marawi City on the southern island of Mindanao between government troops and Islamic State-linked Maute-Abu Sayyaf insurgents.
“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties to which the Philippines is a party prohibits discrimination based on religion,” Conde said.
“Requiring Muslim-only IDs in response to a perceived failure of Muslims to prevent Islamist fighters from entering Marawi is a form of collective punishment.”
Fighting between security forces and the group erupted in Marawi on May 23 after authorities bungled a raid on what they believed to be the hideout of highly-wanted militant Isnilon Hapilon.
A 60-day period of martial law was declared in Mindanao while seven weeks of fighting has resulted in the evacuation of more than 200,000 people from Marawi. Gun clashes and air strikes have also caused the deaths of over 300 terrorists, nearly a hundred government troops and more than 40 civilians.
In June, President Rodrigo Duterte slammed Marawi’s Muslim leaders as well as those from other parts of Mindanao for allegedly allowing the Islamist fighters to enter the city “and cause trouble.”
Since the insurgents laid siege on the city, HRW says it has received reports of discrimination against Muslims throughout the country.
“It is irrelevant from a rights perspective that during the consultation, some Muslim leaders did not object outright to the proposal (for the IDs),” Conde said.