BASILAN PROVINCE – While Mindanao is generally peaceful, there are areas on the island mired with a long history of terrorism, and civilians and law enforcement officers both suffered from violence causing fear and anxiety to entire communities.
Properties were destroyed and lives of people were disrupted. The atrocities were perpetrated by lawless individuals including teenagers – some have joined the bandits, or terror groups, as young as 9 years old. Many of these bandits and terrorists, however, have quietly returned to the fold of the law.
For instance, more than 80 members of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan province recently surrendered to the government and have renounced their previous activities. One of them is 18-year-old “Habib.” Raised in Tipo-Tipo town, Habib became involved with the ASG at a young age. He was a 14-year-old Grade 4 pupil when some members of the ASG asked him to buy food in the public market until it became his daily routine before going to school and after classes.
“Inuutusan ako ng mga Abu sa Baguindan na bumili sapalengke, araw -araw na yun, hanggang sa hindi na ako pinauwi sa amin,” Habib said. With regular access to the ASG’s camp in Barangay Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo, he became a full-fledged member of the group. The ASG’s Baguindan camp was recently overrun by government troops.
Habib said ASG members receive a monthly allowance, but it did not prevent him from leaving the group. “Sa loob ng kampo, ‘pag single binibigyan ng P5,000 kada buwan, ‘pag pamilyado naman P10,000 – hindi na mahirapan maghanap ng pera,” Habib added.
Habib is the 5th of eight siblings. His father died when he was six and his mother went overseas to work when he became an ASG member. “Wala na akong tatay, wala rin dito ang nanay ko, ang mga kapatid ko nag-asawa na, kaya mas okay na sa akin sumali sa ASG,” Habib said.
Habib recalls many experiences inside the camp during his four years as a member of ASG. He was generally assigned as an errand boy who helped in the day to day needs of the ASG – he buys food, he cooks, and he helps in the preparation of weapons before an operation.
He was once assigned to abduct a female hostage from Tipo-Tipo. “Kung may mga kini-kidnap, dadaan ng Zamboanga, may tao na maghihintay sa port pa lang ng Zamboanga, tapos iba naman may maghihintay sa Isabela. Pagdating ng Isabela ididiretso sa Lamitan, saka pupunta ng Tipo-Tipo. At kami naghihintay sa Baguindan,” he said.
When asked how ASG members treat the victims, Habib said: “Noong ako ang sumundo sa babaeng na-kidnap, gusto ko siya patakasin kasi kawawa lang, pero sinabihan ako ng mga matatanda kong kasama na kapag pinatakas ko, ako daw ang papatayin ng grupo.”
Habib, along with his young peers, also witnessed ASG leaders beheading hostages inside their camps. He added that the group’s leaders would first ask for volunteers among them to do the beheading.
“Maraming beses na ako nakakita ng pinupugutan na hostage kapag walang mabigay na ransom, kasi kapag may pupugutan na kailangan namin manood lahat, magagalit ang commander kapag hindi namin pinanood,” Habib explained. “Kung magpapakita ka ng awa sa kanila (hostages), o ng takot sa mangyayari, ikaw ang pagdidiskitahan nila (ASG leaders),” he narrated.
He said the commanders, especially the senior leaders, would usually do the beheading when hostages cannot pay for their ransom. Habib said he was also assigned in combat against government soldiers in 2016 in Baguindan. “Kapag may baril ka, matapang ka.”
Habib said he led a violent life full of uncertainty until he yearned for a decent and peaceful life as a civilian. “Gusto ko tumakas pero hindi ko alam paano kasi natatakot din ako,” he added. He said he saw an opportunity to escape during his last participation in an encounter against government troops in Baguindan last year.
“Pagkatapos ng giyera sa Baguindan, yun na yung pagkakataon na naisip ko na tumakas at sumuko,” he said. “Pagod na kasi ako sa buhay sa loob ng kampo, gusto ko ng mag-aral, nami-miss ko na ang mga kapatid ko, gusto kong lumabas na hindi natatakot at kailangang magtago,” he said.
When he finally reached home, he saw his mother has just gone back home for good. “Ang saya-saya ko nung nakita ko nanay ko na nasa bahay na, kasama ang mga kapatid ko,” he said. “Kaya sumuko na talaga ako para mas maging maayos ang buhay namin lalo na andiyan na ang nanay ko.”
He said he wants to go back to school and become a policeman. “Pag nakapagtapos na ako gusto ko maging pulis para ako naman ang po-protekta sa taga Basilan laban sa mga Abu Sayyaf,” he said.
Today, Habib is one of the returnees who underwent psycho-social interventions, debriefing, dialogue with the military and government officials, and a brief course on farming to help them reform and start a new life. (Bureau of Public Information)
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