Isabela City, Philippines — Some 84 former members of the Abu Sayyaf want new life, this time not as fugitive but partners for community development.
Among them is Ashraf, 20, second in the brood of ten from the town of Sumisip, a place with no power supply, no access to health and education.
He was 15 when his father died. Ashraf said poverty pushed him to join the ASG because his mother struggled to feed the family.
Ashraf said the ARMM government’s reformation program has restored his faith in the government and has given the chance to be with his family again and to lead a normal life.
The recruitment fee from the bandits and the regular allowance have enticed him into the ASG.
According to Ashraf, his fellow returnees feel the sense of freedom after turning their back on the group and are thankful for being given a second chance in life.
Most of the 84 returnees are still in their teens or early twenties. A significant number of them were forcibly recruited. The youngest returnee is only 11 years old and was recruited when he was just 9.
They have returned to the fold of the law with the help of different intermediaries including local government officials who considered the gesture as a means to effectively tackle the dire security issues in their communities.
They underwent a series of psycho-social sessions and a brief course on farming to help them reform and start a new life.
The reformation program for the ASG returnees was initiated by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the help of the 4th Special Forces Battalion (4SFB) and the different local government units in Basilan.
The six-day psycho-social sessions and farming course, which was held on July 19 to 24 at the headquarters of the 4SFB in Isabela City, Basilan, are part of the reformation program.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said it is aimed at giving the returnees the appropriate psychosocial interventions and in helping them adjust to a new of life.
Hataman said the program consists of a series of interventions and other forms of assistance designed to usher the complete reformation of the former combatants into decent and productive members of society.
Aside from the six-day training and psychosocial intervention, some of the returnees will receive livelihood and housing assistance from the ARMM government after qualifying as beneficiaries of its Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development with Growth and Equity (BRIDGE) program.
Hataman said he hopes the reformation of the 84 returnees will encourage the other members of the ASG to lay down their arms and lead a lawful life.
He said it is also meant to dissuade adolescent boys from poor families in Basilan, who are the most susceptible group for recruitment, from joining local terror groups like the ASG.
The returnees be monitored in their respective barangays and the ARMM government will provide them the assistance they need.-Richard Falcatan with reports from ARMM Information Bureau