Surrendered Sayyafs undergo reformation program
BASILAN PROVINCE – Dozens of former Abu Sayyaf members who surrendered to authorities in Basilan province underwent a series of psychosocial sessions and a brief course on farming to help them reform and start a new life.
The reformation program for 84 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 psychosocial sessions and farming course, which was held on July 19 to 24 at the headquarters of the 4SFB in Isabela City are part of the reformation program. ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said it is aimed at giving the returnees the appropriate psychosocial interventions and helping them adjust to a new of life.
He 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.
Most of the returnees are still in their teens or early twenties and a significant number of them have been forcibly recruited into the lawless group. The youngest returnee is only 11 years old and was recruited when he was just 9.
They have returned to the folds 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.
Hataman said he hopes the reformation of the returnees will encourage the other members of the Abu Sayyaf 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.
One of the returnees, Ashraf, said the ARMM’S reformation program has restored his faith in the government and gave him the chance to be with his family again and to lead a normal life. Ashraf is from a remote farming village in the town of Sumisip which has no electricity and little access to education and health facilities. He is now 20 years and has been with the Abu Sayyaf since he was 15.
The second youngest child in a brood of ten, Ashraf said he was forced to join the Abu Sayyaf after his father died. Their mother struggled to put food on the table for them. He said the initial money and regular allowance have enticed him into the Abu Sayyaf. Ashraf said he and his fellow returnees feel a sense of freedom after turning their back on the group and are thankful for being given a second chance in life.
The ARMM government, Hataman said, will be working closely with the local officials including the barangay to monitor the reformation of the returnees and to provide them the assistance they need.