A ten-year-old “Tony” has recently one back to school in a madrassa where he can continue to learn Arabic and be a child again.
Four years ago, he did not have the opportunity to play and attend classes. Instead, Tony lugged around an M4 assault rifle and was attacking and evading government troops as a member of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
He was tagged as one of the sharpest among the 30 young combatants under the command of Motong Indama, a younger cousin of Abu Sayyaf leader Furdji Indama.
“The training took about a year,” recalled Tony. “I was taught how to handle a gun. The [Abu Sayyaf members] were so happy with me that they called me the Tipo-Tipo sniper,” he added.
When Motong surrendered in July 2016, Tony was one of the 11 among his men who followed. The boy now lives with his uncles under the close supervision of Sumisip town officials.
Tony was one of the 179 Abu Sayyaf surrenderers from Basilan and Sulu whom the regional government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) hopes to assist in their return to normal life through an initiative called Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE).
Surrenderers were provided medical services, housing, livelihood training and alternative learning sessions, under the program launched early April 2018.