AFP, MILF conduct peace mission in Lanao del Sur town

THE REGION
By Divina M. Suson
June 10, 2019

SHARE

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.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Subscribe Now!

Receive email updates from Mindanao Daily News.