Muslims in Philippine city of Davao told by mayor to refrain from covering faces in public

Military personnel standing guard in front of the city hall in Davao City, on Sept 4, 2016.
Military personnel standing guard in front of the city hall in Davao City, on Sept 4, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

DAVAO (AFP) - Women in burqas and those wearing surgical masks should refrain from concealing their faces in public, the mayor of Davao who is also the Philippine President's daughter said on Thursday (Sept 15), describing the measure as aimed at preventing attacks.

MS Sara Duterte, daughter of firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte, made the remarks as police hunt for the suspects - seen on closed-circuit television wearing face masks - behind a bombing this month that killed 15 in the southern city.

"It would be a good security practice to disallow garments that cover the faces in public places," the mayor said in a written statement. "These garments include hats, sunglasses, face masks, mouth masks, burqa, face paint, and other similar things."

She said she understood the concerns of Muslim women who are required by their religion to cover up.

"May I suggest that you wear the hijab which shows your face or cooperate with the security personnel and show your face if you are wearing the burqa," the mayor said.

Muslim women in the majority Catholic nation usually favour a hijab, which covers only the hair, over the face-concealing burqa, though it is growing in popularity.

"The general welfare of the majority takes precedence over religious tradition. While it is true that these garments are not disallowed by law, we discourage their use in public places," the mayor added.

Surgical masks are commonly worn by commuters in Asian cities, to block out pollution, or sometimes to stop the spread of illness.

Since the deadly blast in the bustling market in Davao on Sept 2, which led to the President declaring a "state of lawlessness", the city has introduced checkpoints and armed security at key establishments.

The government has blamed the attack on local Islamic militants.