Ex-Abu Sayyaf Group members visit Congress

A total of 40 former members of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) from Basilan recently toured the halls of the House of Representatives as part of an ongoing reintegration program for former extremists who wish to live a normal life.

Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman said the ex-ASG members are part of the latest batch of beneficiaries of the Advancing and Sustaining Good Governance and Community Action Toward Resilience and Empowerment (AS2G-CARE) launched in June this year and implemented by the Balay Mindanao Foundation Inc. (BMFI) in collaboration with local government officials in Basilan.

The House tour is part of the Basilan Farmers Exposure Program that aims to teach rebel-returnees farming techniques as a source of livelihood.

Hataman said after the tour, the former extremists are bound for Baguio, Benguet, Pangasinan, and Bulacan to study best practices for farming.

“Lahat sila ay ngayon lang makakarating ng Maynila o makakatuntong sa mga lugar tulad ng Kongreso (This is the first time for them to reach Manila or go to other places like Congress). We are showing them an alternative way of life, na meron silang kinabukasan kapag binitawan nila ang kanilang mga armas (that they have a future if they lay down their arms). We give them a reason to give up a life of fighting and turn to farming,” Hataman said.

“And it is good that they are exposed to a lot of places. They can start to dream, learn new things, and want their lives to be productive,” he added.

The AS2G-CARE is a continuation of a program of the now-defunct Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) called Program Against Violent Extremism or PAVE that was initiated by Hataman during his term as regional governor.

It is a collaboration between BMFI and the Provincial Government of Basilan; Joint Task Force Basilan-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); Nagdilaab Foundation Inc.; Office of Deputy Speaker Hataman; and the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP), with the support of the Government of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

“Many of these people have known poverty and violence all their lives because of a lack of support from government and limited access to social services and education. With the continuation of the PAVE program, they can now rebuild their lives, have families and be productive members of society once more,” Hataman said. (Jose Cielito Reganit, PNA)

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