10 Abu Sayyaf members surrender to Army in Basilan

John Unson - Philstar.com
10 Abu Sayyaf members surrender to Army in Basilan
Soldiers and volunteers wait for more Abu Sayyaf members to appear at a designated surrender site in Sumisip, Basilan.
Philstar.com / John Unson

BASILAN, Philippines — It was a long and perilous walk from their jungle hideout to an Army camp in Sumisip, Basilan where they renounced violent religious extremism and pledge allegiance to the Philippine flag.

Ten Abu Sayyaf members led by a feared commander, Bobong Mastul, bolted on Friday and trustingly turned themselves in to Lt. Col. Philip Faguel of the 64th Infantry Battalion as their initial stride to performing “tawba” for good.

Tawba is Arabic for repentance, which also means turning away from what is prohibited in Islam to achieve spiritual perfection.

Mastul and his nine followers, who also yielded assorted firearms, decided to return to the fold of law through the joint intercession of Faguel, Gen. Juvymax Uy of the Army’s 104th Brigade in Basilan and Sumisip Mayor Gulam Hataman.

They operated in the hinterland Pamatsaken, Baiwas and Punoh Lumut areas in Sumisip, from whose residents they periodically collected money for their needs at gunpoint.

"Life is becoming more and more difficult in the hills. We envy people in the lowlands whose lives are improving now as a result of government services now reaching them. There are roads, bridges, schools and barangay health centers now in areas we once ruled," Mustal said in Yakan dialect.

He said they want their children to study in schools for them to have good future, which is impossible if they continue to hide in the jungles and move from one area to another each time government forces come close.

Almost 200 members of the Islamic State-inspired Abu Sayyaf in Basilan have surrendered in the past two years, among them adolescents trained in fabrication of powerful improvised explosive devices.

They are now being ushered into mainstream society by local officials and units of the 104th Brigade with the help of line agencies under the executive department of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega of the Western Mindanao Command said Saturday credit also has to go to the Islamic religious community in Basilan for helping convince them to reintegrate into the local communities.

Dela Vega said he is thankful to the ARMM government for extending sustained socio-economic interventions to the now reforming former Abu Sayyaf members.

Besides their firearms, Mastul and his followers also surrendered four Harris two-way radio transceivers to the 64th IB.

In a statement Saturday, ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the provincial offices of the regional government’s social welfare, agriculture and health departments will provide Mastul and his men support to hasten their return to mainstream society.

The ARMM government had earlier trained more than 80 now reforming former Abu Sayyaf bandits on propagation of rubber and orchard trees to ensure their productivity as they live normal lives.

The regional government has also been providing food rations to poor residents in far-flung areas in Basilan, among them families of former Abu Sayyaf members through ARMM’s Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development for Growth and Empowerment program.

Mastul and companions Atotong Sarahadil, Mudzrie Salahudin Jabbon, Sapwan Kapitan Aliman, Nassir Jaid Tahil, Hair Tiglama Kawakibon, Adeh Kawakibon, Rubin Ikih, Aminin Baliyong and Suedin Muril have all been examined by physicians while at the battalion command post of the 64th IB in Barangay Tumahubong , Sumisip.

Senior members of the ARMM’s inter-agency regional peace and order council said backdoor talks for the surrender of more Abu Sayyaf members are still underway.

The sources said local Islamic theologians and representatives from the Basilan provincial government and the 104th Brigade are helping facilitate the negotiations.

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