MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday said the practice of Paniqui, Tarlac to implement an identification system for Muslims is "discriminatory."
The Muslim ID system in Paniqui has drawn flak from various officials and sectors who believe that such a practice will only cause division among Muslims and non-Muslims.
"Discriminatory ‘pag ikaw ay pumipili na ang hihingan mo lamang ng ID ay isang sector lamang ng lipunan," said AFP spokesperson Restituto Padilla.
"Kaya't ang aming iminungkahi, when we start checking identification of individuals, it should not be aimed at certain sectors of our society but it must be applicable to everyone."
Padilla said the Armed Forces is instead pushing for the establishment of a national ID system, "because everyone…may look like an ordinary civilian, but they may not be who they say they are."
"So it’s good and it is logical to always check on the identities of everyone in your line that you are about to check," he said.
The Tarlac town's reported ID requirement for Muslims came as thousands fled long-drawn fighting in Marawi City, where government troops have been battling Islamic State-linked terrorists for nearly two months now.
A Muslim community in Batangas meanwhile recently gave out identification cards to its members to prevent extremists from joining their ranks.
Padilla appealed to non-Muslims in the Catholic majority Philippines to understand that the rebellion in Marawi has nothing to do with Islam.
"Hindi po lahat ng ating kapatid na Muslim ay bahagi nitong rebelyon. Iilan lang po ‘yan. Tulad ng sinabi natin noong nagsimula ang kaguluhan, this was not a fight between religions. Hindi po ito religious war," he said.
"Ito’y isang bakbakan laban po sa masasamang pwersa na nagdala ng kaguluhan sa Marawi. Period."
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman earlier said he would like to look into the "legality and propriety" of Paniqui town’s Muslim ID system, calling it a form of discrimination against Muslims.
"We believe this policy clearly discriminates against the believers of Islam and could set a dangerous precedent. It could also ignite anger among young Muslims who are the primary target for recruitment of extremist groups," Hataman said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Padilla stressed that soldiers have the right to defend themselves in case they get attacked by teenage members of extremist groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf.
This, amid reports that some of the fighters holed up in the city were minors.
"When our soldiers’ lives are at risk, they take appropriate measures to defend themselves and that is allowable even by the Geneva Convention. So there’s no question about that,” he said.
"But every time we have an opportunity to rescue a child or an individual who is being forced into the fight, we will do that."
Clashes erupted in the predominantly Islamic city on May 23 when terrorists led captured parts of the city and killed civilians in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The clashes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law.
At least 507 people - 379 suspected terrorists, 39 civilians, and 89 government troops - have died since battles began.
The military has been having a hard time retaking parts of Marawi still controlled by the terrorists, as snipers from the enemy side still lurk around the conflict zone. Government forces were also being careful in advancing towards enemy positions due to the presence of booby traps.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.