EIGHTY-four young and former members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan have completed a series of psycho-social sessions and a brief course on farming to help them start a new life.
Most of the 84 returnees, in their teens or early twenties, were forcibly recruited into the lawless group. The youngest returnee is only 11 years old and was recruited when he was nine.
They have returned to the fold of the law with the help of various intermediaries including local government officials who considered the gesture as a means to effectively tackle the dire security issues in their communities.
Ashraf, one of the returnees, said the ARMM’s reformation program has restored his faith in government and has given him the chance to be with his family again and lead a normal life.
He is from a remote farming village in the town of Sumisip that has no electricity and with little access to education and health facilities. He is now 20 years old and has been with the ASG since he was 15.
The second youngest child in a brood of 10, Ashraf was forced to join the ASG after his father died. Their mother struggled to put food on the table for them. He said the initial money given to him on recruitment and a regular allowance enticed him to join the ASG.
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.
Their reformation was initiated by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in cooperation with the 4th Special Forces Battalion (4SFB) and the different local government units in Basilan, conducted on July 19–24 at the 4SFB headquarters in Isabela City.
ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the program aimed at giving the former combatants appropriate psycho-social interventions to help them adjust to a new of life as produtive members of society.
Aside from the six-day training, some of the returnees will receive livelihood and housing assistance from the ARMM government as qualified beneficiaries of the Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development with Growth and Equity (BRIDGE) program.
Hataman said he hopes the reformation of the 84 returnees will encourage other ASG members 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 ARMM government will work closely with local officials including barangay leaders to monitor the reformation of the returnees and to provide them every assistance they need.