Catholics in the Prelature of Saint Mary in war-torn Marawi have joined protests against the discrimination of Muslim women who wear the niqab.
A niqab is a garment of clothing that covers the face and is worn by Muslim women as a part of a particular interpretation of hijab or modesty.
The ecumenical group "Duyog Marawi
" noted that displaced Muslim women in Marawi who wear the face cover are being "discriminated" against, especially at military checkpoints.
Soldiers reportedly force Muslim women to remove their niqab to check their identity.
"We should not be judged because you don’t know us," said Laisa, a Muslim woman who asked that her identity be protected for security reasons after meeting with church leaders.
"This is just a matter of respect for us," she said, adding that the women "feel bad over all mockery of us."
She said soldiers associated the face cover and black clothes worn by women with Islamic State gunmen who attacked the city on May 23.
The five-months of fighting in the predominantly Muslim city left Marawi devastated and resulted in the displacement of close to 400,000 people.
"We hope that the beauty of our niqab will be revered again," said Laisa.
In a statement, Duyog Marawi leader Abdul Mahid Usman Doro said no one deserves to be discriminated against because of one’s practices or beliefs.
"Understanding and respect are two words that must be considered and put into practice especially under serious and sensitive circumstances involving vulnerable persons," added Doro.
The Catholic prelature launched Duyog Marawi in August "to help in the healing and recovery" of people displaced by fighting in the city.
Doro said the women happen to wear black clothing like the terrorists "but they should not be judged or condemned for [wearing the face cover]."
"They too are [internally displaced persons] and victims who deserve our care and respect. They may wear black. They are Muslims. But they are not terrorists," said Doro.
The Philippine government last week declared Marawi "liberated" from the terrorists but have yet to allow the return of civilians to the city.
Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the military's Joint Task Force Ranao, said the terrorists included wives who were brought by their husbands when they attacked the city on May 23.
The military official said there are no more hostages in the hands of gunmen after 20 were rescued last week. A total of 1,780 hostages have been rescued since the fighting broke out.
Brawner said the military is eyeing the return of thousands of residents displaced by the fighting later this week.
"We will make sure that non-residents will not be able to join them and maybe, you know, create havoc or create a scenario here in Marawi," said the military official.