Former members of the Abu Sayyaf group surrender to the military in January. Pareño, file

Lorenzana backs reintegration program for former Abu Sayyaf
John Unson ( - March 25, 2018 - 9:45am
COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Local efforts to reintegrate members of the Abu Sayyaf into mainstream society got a boost this week with the assurance of support from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Lorenzana made the commitment during the March 21 meeting of the inter-agency regional peace and order council of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command in Calarian, Zamboanga City.
The council and local officials in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have negotiated the surrender, with the help of the ARMM police and WestMincom units, of 173 Abu Sayyaf members in the past 20 months through the regional government’s Program Against Violence and Extremism.
The initiative, also called PAVE, was pioneered by the office of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman with the assistance of regional line agencies.  
PAVE is now assisting more than a hundred Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan who surrendered to the police and the military in batches in the past 18 months.
The reforming militants are now being ushered into mainstream society via different interventions by the regional government, among them ARMM's Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development for Growth and Empowerment Program. 
Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares of the Police Regional Office-ARMM said Sunday he and members of their top tactical and administrative staff core are thankful for Lorenzana’s assurance to assist the PAVE initiatives.
Lorenzana is a retired Army general who served in hostile areas in southern Mindanao.
"Secretary Lorenzana’s manifested support to PAVE is a big boost to the joint peace initiatives of PRO-ARMM, the ARMM executive department and WestMinCom," Mijares said.

Livelihood and support for former Abu Sayyaf 

Regional officials reported to Lorenzana during the March 21 security council meeting in Zamboanga City that former Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan have been provided with livelihood and other humanitarian support, including core shelters by the ARMM-BRIDGE program.
The manager of PAVE, John Louie Balagot, also regional cabinet secretary, said Sunday ARMM officials were elated by Lorenzana’s gesture.
"We can certainly expand the PAVE program now that we have the support of the Department of National Defense," Balagot said.
Balagot said Alexander Macario, who is assistant secretary for peace and order in the central office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, also pledged to help implement the PAVE.
Macario is also a retired Army officer who was assigned in Maguindanao and in Basilan while on active duty.

National program sought

Former Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan had earlier urged Malacañang to forge a national amnesty program for Islamic State-inspired militants to complement ARMM’s domestic reconciliation campaigns.
They relayed their appeal to reporters during the March 5 to 15 People’s Day medical and dental outreach missions of the regional government’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team and ARMM-BRIDGE personnel.
The outreach activities were capped off with the distribution of 20 tons of food rations to thousands of residents in different towns in Basilan, among them former Abu Sayyaf members.
The beneficiaries of the food dispersal project also benefited from the medical and dental services provided free by ARMM employees.
Mijares said he is optimistic President Rodrigo Duterte will consider the viability of a reconciliation program for Abu Sayyaf members who would wish to surrender, in support of the ARMM government’s bid to bring more of them back into mainstream society.
"While our president is tough in enforcing the law, he has been compassionate to enemies of state who are willing to return to the fold of law. Obviously, he is keen on building a progressive nation whose people are at peace with one another, at peace with the government," Mijares said.

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