THE former Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) stronghold in Barangay Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo in Basilan was turned over by the military to officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), restoring full civilian control over the area.
The turnover came after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) overran the ASG camp in August as part of a government crackdown against the terrorist group.
Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman called for unity in achieving lasting peace to hundreds of residents in the village.
“It’s about time for this place [Barangay Baguindan] to receive various projects from the government,” Hataman said, as he vowed to pour projects into conflict-affected ARMM areas.
Lt. Col. Ernest John Jadloc, 74th Infantry Battalion commander, said the camp was seized after a month of operations involving members of the 18th IB, 64th IB, Scout Rangers and Special Forces.
The operations paved the way for restoring local government authority and social services in areas where the terror group lorded over for years.
Baguindang was among the liberated areas from the ASG jihadists, including Bohe Piang of al-Barka town after months of fighting, according to military officials.
Bisahari Hantian, village chairman, said they were grateful that the residents will finally experience peace and their lives brought back to normal.
Also, village resident Saida Abubakar said 40 years of constant evacuation because of fighting was too much for them to bear, especially the children.
After the ceremony, a People’s Day was conducted to provide medical consultation and check-ups and hygiene kits were distributed.
The region’s humanitarian emergency action response team (ARMM-HEART) also distributed relief packs to 1,574 families in Barangay Baguindan and Barangay Silangkum and in al-Barka town, both ASG strongholds.
Meanwhile, 20 ASG members on Thursday surrendered and turned over eight high-powered firearms in Sumisip town also in Basilan.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman, said the group, led by ASG sub-leader Katatong Balaman alias Tatong, surrendered to Col. Thomas Donato Jr., the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade commander, and Mayor Gulam Hataman of Sumisip.
Tan said Balaman’s group also turned over two locally-made shotguns aside from the eight high-powered firearms.
Donato said the group is responsible for several ambuscades and skirmishes against government troops, particularly in the villages of Sukaten and Baiwas.