Amid an ongoing battle between the Philippine army and Islamists in the city of Marawi, a proposal to issue a Muslim ID as part of counterterrorism measures has sparked anger in the country. Ana P. Santos reports.
In May, Marawi, the main Muslim city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, was partially seized by hundreds of Islamist militants flying the flag of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group.
Subsequently, government troops launched an air and ground offensive, but have so far failed to dislodge fighters who remain entrenched at various points in the city, 800 kilometers (500 miles) from the capital, Manila.
Most of the 200,000 residents of the now heavily damaged city have fled, but the military said some 500 civilians remained trapped in areas where fighting is going on. More than 300 militants and 67 soldiers have been killed in the battles, according to official figures. Dozens of civilians are also feared dead.
Now Philippine authorities have proposed that Marawi Muslims be issued a special ID as a counter-terrorism measure.
"The timing of this proposal is not good," Hamza Lucman, a Marawi resident, told DW.
Lucman says that "Islamophobia" has risen in the Philippines since the IS-affiliated Maure terror group overran the southern city. He alleged that his friends and relatives, who have been displaced due to fighting, have not found a place to rent because of their Muslim identity.
"They have been told that Muslims are not welcome. This is blatant discrimination. And now the authorities wants to issue a Muslim ID," Lucman complained.
The Muslim identification proposal reportedly came through a dialogue between Muslims and security forces in Pampanga, a province in the country's north.
"We conducted a dialogue with Muslim leaders to address the security issues. We also discussed how we could work together to protect the communities," Aaron Aquino, a senior police official, told DW.
"One of the Muslim leaders told us they had rolled out an ID system in their village to identify suspicious newcomers looking for hideouts. They say the system has been quite effective," Aquino added.
Aquino insisted that police did not propose the "Muslim ID system," either in Marawi or anywhere else in the country.
"We did not propose it. It is discriminatory," said Aquino.
But Muslim groups say it is not important who actually proposed the idea.
"The idea of a separate identification card for Muslims is a human rights violation. These kinds of proposals are divisive. They tend to justify the fear and irrational prejudice against Muslims," Amir Mawallil, executive director of the Bangsamoro Youth Affairs group, told DW.
In a speech last month, President Rodrigo Duterte blamed Muslims for giving space to terrorists.
'Ineffective and counter-productive'
The ID proposal has sparked a fierce debate in the country, with many rights activists saying it underscores the discrimination felt by the country's Muslim minority.
"Muslims have always experienced subtle forms of discrimination… We have always had to prove that we are good, educated, and civilized," Laisa Alamia, executive secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, wrote on Facebook.
The Muslim hijab issue is already controversial in the Philippines.
"We wear our religion on our face. We don't need an ID to be identified," Samira Gutoc, a prominent women's rights activist, said sarcastically.
"What we do need is an evacuee ID so that the displaced people could receive aid faster," she added.
Some experts say that counter-extremism efforts should be focused on effective intelligence mechanisms and working with moderate Muslim groups.