Former Abu Sayyaf members help guard quarantine checkpoints
Municipal police personnel in Lantawan, Basilan are helping oversee a makeshift COVID-19 quarantine facility in Sibakil Island, a former haven of the Abu Sayyaf.
Philstar.com/John Unson

Former Abu Sayyaf members help guard quarantine checkpoints

John Unson (Philstar.com) - April 4, 2020 - 4:56pm

COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Reforming former Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan are “silent frontliners” in a war against coronavirus by a government they fought so hard for years as misguided religious extremists.

Some of them, who are now volunteer community watchmen in barangays where they now thrive as farmers, are helping guard quarantine checkpoints in far-flung areas.

In Basilan’s largest town, Sumisip, a number of former Abu Sayyaf members who surrendered through the efforts of Gov. Jim Salliman and the lone congressional representative in the island province, the Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman, are now helping barangay leaders monitor the condition of elderly neighbors and people afflicted with debilitating illnesses long before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana of the Western Mindanao Command said Saturday there is an unfolding of how former Abu Sayyaf gunmen have become productive members of the local communities in Basilan as a result of the province-wide reconciliation effort of leaders dubbed Program Against Violent Extremism, or PAVE.

“It is touching to hear stories about how they have become part of the mainstream society helping the government fight an unseen enemy, the COVID-19,” Sobejana said.

Employees of the local government unit of Sumisip and the office of the provincial governor have been extending since last week relief services to remote areas without security problems, assisted by former Abu Sayyaf members who have returned to the fold of law.

Relief operations and the coronavirus containment efforts of local government units in other towns, including Al-Barka, once known as Basilan’s most hostile area, are supported by former Abu Sayyaf members too, according to members of the multi-sector provincial peace and order council.

Senior officials of the Basilan provincial police office said Saturday police units involved in relief operations of the Basilan provincial government and the office of the congressional representative in the province are enjoying security support from former Abu Sayyaf members.

WestMinCom officials said the now reforming former Abu Sayyaf bandits are beneficiaries of the domestic PAVE project.

Local officials, among them Sumisip Mayor Jul Adnan Hataman and Salliman, now in his second term as Basilan governor, said they are also grateful to units of the 101st Brigade under the WestMinCom and the municipal police offices for supporting their continuing anti-coronavirus campaign.

“We are not taking chances. We will do our best to prevent the spread of COVID-19 disease in Basilan. We are thanking the WestMinCom and the Basilan provincial police for helping out,” Salliman said.

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