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AFP, MILF conduct peace mission in Lanao del Sur town

June 10, 2019

By Divina M. Suson Correspondent PAGAYAWAN, Lanao del Sur-- At the age of 14, Salman (not his real name) goes back to school on Monday (June 10) as Grade 4 with his 12-year old sister as a classmate in Padas Elementary School in Barangay Padas this town. Salman only finished Grade 3. He stopped going to school when he was eight years old after the cattle buy-and-sell business of his father, “Abdul”, got bankrupt and the people whom his father borrowed huge money got angry and wanted to be paid the whole Php 800,000. In November 2018, Abdul was tempted to join the group led by Owayda Benito Marohombsar, also known as Abu Dar, the reported leader of Dawlah Islamiyah (DI)-Maute-ISIS group Lanao, when he was promised by the later his debts will be paid in full. “Aside from paying my debts, I was also convinced of the Jihad,” Abdul said in broken Filipino language. His wife spoke for him because he could not speak in straight Filipino. Abu Dar reportedly replaced Isnilon Hapilon, the emir (leader) of DI in Southeast Asia, when the latter was killed during the late part of Marawi siege in October 2017 with a Maute leader Omar Maute. Hadji Nassif Aloyodan, barangay chairman of Padas, said Abdul joined Abu Dar’s group as helper, not as combatant, in October 2017, a week before Hapilon was killed in a combat operation inside Marawi’s battleground. “Hindi man yan marunong gumamit ng baril. Tagabitbit lang siya ng mga pagkain, tagakuha at tagahatid. Sinabi namin na huwag sumama sa kanila kasi delikado, hinahabol ng militar ang grupo nila Abu Dar, pero takot na siya sa mga nautangan niya kasi papatayin na siya,” Aloyodan said in an interview. Abu Dar’s recruit Brigadier General Romeo Brawner, Jr., commander of 103rd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army in Marawi City, said Abu Dar escaped from the former main battle area during the early part of the siege when he got wounded. “Their plan was Abu Dar to heal his wound and recruit some more from outside as reinforcement was they were not able to enter because that time, Marawi was already locked down, the security was tight,” Brawner said in an earlier media interview. While outside Marawi, Abu Dar was recruiting members mostly those who are orphaned of Marawi siege or whose relatives were killed during the siege and young people and farmers who would easily get lured with money and who could easily believe in their ‘religious indoctrination’. They were training in the mountainous parts of Pagayawan, Tubaran and Sultan Domalondong, the towns of Lanao del Sur where Abu Dar’s family came from. Abu Dar’s group was transferring from one mountain to another within the three towns eluding the military. Lieutenant Colonel Noel Ignes, commander of the 55th Infantry Battalion which has jurisdiction over Pagayawan, said Abdul started training with the group in 2018 at the boundaries of Tubaran and Pagayawan. In cellphone videos recovered by the military when they overrun and killed Abu Dar last March at their training camp in Barangay Kalaludan, Pagayawan, Abdul was seen with 20 others, brandishing firearms and having formation. Barangay Kalaludan is at the boundary of Pagayawan and Tubaran towns, some three kilometers away from Padas. “He (Abdul) is one of the group members who trained with Abu Dar. He is instrumental in neutralizing the leader,” Ignes said in an interview. Realizing that his debts were not yet paid, Abdul surrendered during military operations in January. He then served as a guide of the operating government troops leading to the neutralization of Abu Dar. Saving his son In the middle part of the year, Abdul brought with him Salman, then 13 years old out-of-school youth, for fears that his debtors will get back on his son and kidnapped him. Abdul’s wife, “Saida”, said she was worried about his son’s life but he understands his husband just to protect their first born. She was living many sleepless nights especially when the father and son could not go home and visit for a month and she could learn that there is an ongoing military operation. There were also times when she would follow them at the training camp and stay for a week. “Kasi nami-miss ko ang anak ko at nag-alala ako sa kanyang kalagayan. Matagal ko siyang kinumbinsi na mag-surender kasi sinabi ng military na tutulungan sila kung mag-surender. Kaya nung nag-decide na sila nag ag-surender, laking tuwa ko,” Saida said in an interview. The government forces, aside from conducting combat operations, they will also send flyers to the families of the DI fighters that the government is open to receive and protect those who are willing to surrender and help them end violent extremism. In Padas, where around 200 families live five kilometers from the town center and almost 50 kilometers away from Marawi City, has five residents recruited by the extremists. Salman being the youngest. As of latest counting, Brawner said, there are 163 extremists in Lanao del Sur who surrendered to the military. Some directly went to the battalions, some were facilitated by the local government units. While some of these fighters have direct participation during the Marawi siege, most of them were recruited after the five-month war, supposedly to reorganize and continue building an ISIS caliphate in Lanao area that Hapilon and the Maute brothers failed to do. Peace mission The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) steps up its efforts into resolving the structural causes of violent extremism in Lanao del Sur. Together with the private and business sectors, the once adversaries in the battlefield at the height of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) conflict, AFP soldiers and the MILF Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) gathered on Saturday, June 8, in Padas for a peace mission. The beneficiaries are residents of the community affected by violent extremism. In June 9, the same interventions were brought to Sultan Domalondong town, the place where the military’s combat operation against the DI last January this year happened. In the uplands that Abu Dar was killed in a fierce battle with the Army troops, the AFP and its Reserve Forces from Manila and the volunteerism of students of Upsilon Sigma Phi brought assorted interventions that will change people’s lives according to the military. The MILF was invited as partner of the event because the area is where the 101st Base Command of the North Eastern Mindanao Front, under Sommy Ponda, also known as Commander Bangladesh, is located. “We came together with our MILF counterparts kasi south of the lake, sila talaga ang may malakas na presence and at the same time hindi rin natin maiwasan na may kalaban, minsan ang hinahanap nilang tao ay yung madali lang nilang mapitas,” said Army Captain Villarosa, Special Projects Officer of the intensified Civil-Military Operations for Development and Governance of the AFP. Villarosa said, the MILF helped the Army in identifying communities vulnerable in the recruitment of the DI. “At the political level, maganda na po ang usapan, and this is to sustain yung usapan na yun at the ground level,” Villarosa added. Seedlings of different vegetables like pechay, eggplants, tomatoes were distributed to farmers for their sustainable livelihood activities like gardening. “Instead of tanks dropping bombs, we bring a tractor to ‘dropped’ seeds,” Villarosa explained. The ‘tanks to tractor, arms to farms’ program is the transition on the AFP’s role from combat to peace and stability while the ‘dropping of seeds instead of bombs’ is on the AFP’s partnership with ‘peace crops on livelihood projects. Who donated the tractor and the seedlings? The volunteerism students of Upsilon Sigma Phi helped in the psychosocial aspects of the children in the conflict areas. The Upsilon Sigma Phi and SMILE for the Youth non-government organization have also distributed school supplies to pupils of Padas Elementary School, including Salman. “Siguradong makabalik na siya sa pag-aaral kasi may mga gamit na,” said Saida, adding that Salman have been very excited thinking that he can go back to school and continue his study. He wanted to become a soldier to defend his place from the terrorists according to Saida. Like his father, Salman could understand Filipino but cannot speak. From toy gun to playground set The program is patterned after the program the AFP has implemented in Basilan for the children of Abu Sayaff returnees. A playground set, with swing, seesaw, swing, slides and monkey bar, was set up. “For the longest time, ang alam lang nila (children) na laruan ay baril. Sa psychosocial, kung ipapa-drawing mo sila ng laruan, baril o baril-barilan ang kanilang ipipinta,” Villarosa recalled. “We are replicating it in Lanao del Sur to inculcate the culture of peace not a culture of violence,” he added. Villarosa said that violent extremism is an ideology that nobody can kill. “We can always kill the terrorists but not violent extremism. You can only make it irrelevant by breaking the chain of violence and by doing all these interventions and psychosocial activities with the former fighters,” Villarosa said. Brawner explained that the AFP is starting with the children by exposing them to a culture of peace so that when they grow up, they will forget the culture of violence that their parents and ancestors are exposed to. He said there are still active DI fighters in the area and the Army is asking the help of the MILF to facilitate their surrender “Ipinapakita natin sa community, including the MILF, that we are one with them, especially after the signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the plebiscite that ratify it,” Brawner said.  

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Fire gutted school buildings in Lanao del Sur

June 7, 2019

ILIGAN CITY ----- A school in Barangay Dilabayan, Bacolod Kalawi town in Lanao del Sur was burned down after a fire broke out, past 8:00 in the morning on Friday (June 7). Police investigation said the fire originated from a nearby house owned by a certain Juhary Manan whose family was able to escape. Captain Timothy Jim Romanillos, chief of Bacolod Kalawi Municipal Police Station, said the fire, that was reported at 8:20AM, gutted three school buildings of Dilabayan Primary School mostly made of light materials. "Kaya ang bilis kumalat ng apoy dahil luma na (ang mga building) at made mostly of light materials," Romanillos said in a phone interview. No casualties were reported. Initial report said faulty wiring caused the fire. The Bureau of Fire Protection in Bacolod Kalawi is still determining the estimated cost of damage according to Romanillos.

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Police seizes 6.8 million pesos of shabu in Lanao Sur

June 7, 2019

ILIGAN CITY ----- Authorities arrested around 12:00 on Friday, June 7, two suspects and seized a kilo of suspected 'shabu' in a joint anti-drug buybust operation in Purok 7 Kapigis, Barangay Eastern, Wao, Lanao del Sur. The joint buybust operation was facilitated by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency-Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PDEA BAR), PDEA 12, 34th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army, Wao Municipal Police Station and the Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit (PDEU) of Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office. Police Colonel Madzgani Mukaram, chief of Lanao del Sur Provincial Police Office, identified the suspects as Darangji Ombo Angatong, alias Salaudin and Lendi Asiw Mangondacan. Mangondacan was wounded when he tried to escape and exchanged fire with the arresting officer according to Mukaram. "He was brought to Wao District Hospital for medical treatment," Mukaram said. The seized drugs has an estimated market value of 6.8 million pesos based on the estimate of the PDEA. Operatives have also seized the buybust money, assorted identification cards and other non drug evidence including one unit of KIA Picanto, color blue with plate number ZFN 679. The suspects and the evidences were brought to PDEA BARMM office in Cotabato for proper disposition.

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Marawi, City of Inspiration not City of Tarpulin says Gordon

June 4, 2019

MARAWI CITY ----- Rather than calling Marawi City a Tarpulin Capital of the Philippines, Senator Richard Gordon said it is better to consider the predominant-Muslim city a City of Inspiration. In his visit here on Monday (June 3) as chairman of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), Gordon said it is inspiring to be in Marawi seeing tarpulin hung all over the place congratulating those who passed board examinations or who have graduated from college.  "It is most inspiring when I see 'Congratulations for passing the board exam', 'Congratulations for passing the bar exam', 'congratulations for passing the PMA (Philippine Military Academy)'," Gordon said in his message to almost a hundred of PRC volunteers at the New Capitol Complex Conference Hall in Marawi City. Upon entering Marawi City, tarpulins of several sizes, bearing photos, names and courses or kinds of board exams, were seen hung, some are put up in woods, congratulating a family member. Many of these congratulatory tarps bear the family names of both parents and grand parents. Some of these tarps are paid by relatives who has the same family name of the one being congratulated. "It is a pride and honor of the family that's why we have to put all the family names of the family. If you miss one, they will get hurt," Jamalodin Basman, a Maranao registered nurse and a barangay kagawad in Marawi City said.

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ICRC builts water, sanitation facility in LDS

June 4, 2019

SAGUIARAN, LANAO DEL SUR ----- Around six thousand residents here could have an easy access of their water supply after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) formally turned over on Monday (June 3) the water and sanitation facility at the Bualan Spring in Barangay Bualan. The facility will help not only to the residents of Saguiaran but also of the internally displaced families who are living in the transitory shelter site in nearby Bahay Ng Pagbabago in Barangay Sagonsongan, Marawi City, some two kilometers away. Residents can use the facility in washing their clothes and in fetching water without dealing anymore the thick muds since it was cemented all over. It also made the lives of the Meranaws easy for Wudhu rite (washing) when they entered the Mosque to perform their prayers since the facility is built just at the entrance of the Mosque. Wudhu is the ritual washing performed by Muslims before prayer. Muslims believed they must be clean and wear good clothes before they present themselves before God.  The area was used to be a creek where residents have to look for their place to wash, either their clothes. "Mga 60 years na kaming nagtiis na sobrang putik ang area, tapos mag aaway away pa ang iba kasi nag-aagawan sa area. Sobrang malaking tulong ito sa amin," said Zenaida Macatanong, 60-year old resident of Bualan, whose husband, a senior citizen who can only move through a wheelchair, prays at the Mosque regularly. Macatanong revealed that the Bualan Spring can sustain evenTh f dry season could last until a year. "More than 60 years old na ako pero never pa namin na-experience na nawalan ng tubig yang spring na yan," she added. Engineer Julficar Pangato, project monitoring engineer of the ICRC, the 4-million peso worth project can serve up to 11,000 people if Marawi City and the neighboring towns of Lanao del Sur would experience power interruption. "Kasi maraming mga residente sa Marawi at ibang area sa Lanao (del) Sur ang dependent sa electric water pump kaya kung wala silang kuryente, dito sila pumupunta para mag-igib," Pangato said in an interview. The turn-over of the facility was led by ICRC President Peter Maurer who came to the Philippines for the second time after the Yolanda tragedy in Tacloban. "President (Peter) Maurer visits Marawi City to have a humanitarian dialogue with the local government officials and the locals, including the internally displaced persons to know the needs, two years after the siege, and bring it to the forefront and invite donors for help," said Lany dela Cruz, Senior Communications Officer of the ICRC. Two years since the siege started, 1,100 evacuees and residents of Lanao del Sur received potable water through water-treatment facilities in two hospitals while 7,500 people from Marawi were aided with continuous running of water system through ICRC support to the Marawi City Water District. In cooperation with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), the ICRC supported 4,500 people in Saguiaran with water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities. More than 300 PRC volunteers were mobilized to support ICRC activities in Lanao del Sur. PRC Chairman and Senator Richard Gordon said the ICRC and the PRC will continue to help and when he and Maurer will go to Davao today to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte, he will ask the president to fast track the rehabilitation of Marawi. "We went through a very deadly experience here in Marawi and since day 1, we were already working on the streets to give the evacuees blood pressure, water, food and psychosocial support. We will continue to help," Gordon said in his message with the volunteers who met Maurer and his party.

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DOST gears up for Marawi IDPs’ livelihood programs

June 3, 2019

MARAWI CITY, June 3 (PIA ICCC) -- The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has intensified its efforts in providing livelihood programs for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of this city. Dr. Rowena Cristina Guevara, undersecretary for Research and Development said during the project launching of Livelihood Program for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of Marawi by DOST’s Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) that the agency would provide them support until they can recover. “Hangga't hindi sila nakakabangon, tutulong kami (Until they can recover, we will help them),” Guevara said. Guevara also emphasized that the agency has been providing a series of training and hands-on programs to the IDPs through its different offices. DOST-ITDI has been providing technologies and training on personal care products, charcoal briquetting, herbal processing and essential oil extraction aimed at improving the quality of life of the IDPs by utilizing indigenous resources for their sustainable livelihood. In partnership with the SMILES Foundation, the DOST also supported the IDPs in Butig with a corn mill facility. The Bayabao Poblacion Farmers Cooperative here has already harvested 2,400 kilos from its 40-hectare corn plantation, earning P26,400 per cycle. Other projects implemented by the SMILES-DOST partnership include “Do-It-Yourself (DIY)” bamboo shelter production for Butig, Lanao del Sur and Innovation Support System and Management Strategies to Vegetable Production to Farmers in Pantar, Lanao del Norte. DOST has also partnered with the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) to revive the handloom weaving industry in Marawi through the Maranao Collectible, a group of internally displaced women and men who create heirloom “langkit” weaving. The DOST will provide training and necessary materials and handlooms.  “We are thankful to DOST, because the funding for the loans will provide more opportunities for Maranao weavers,” said Prof. Darwin Manubag of MSU-IIT.  The DOST provides the technology while its partner organizations assist in the implementation of the projects to the grassroots. Being a member-agency of the Task Force Bangon Marawi’s  (TFBm) Subcommittee on Business and Livelihood, DOST commits itself to provide sustainable livelihood to the IDPs. (LEAntonio/PIA)  

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