BUTIG, LANAO DEL SUR – “Nangyari na ang nangyari. ‘Wag na nating suportahan pa kung sino mang nagnanais tumanim ng anumang propaganda, lalo na itong NPA (New People’s Army), mga itim, at kung ano pang masamang grupo. ‘Wag na natin suportahan, walang magandang maidudulot ‘yan.”
These were words said with conviction by Wahab, a former violent extremist (FVE) from the hinterlands of Butig. Aside from the NPA, Wahab is also referring to the terrorists in black – the ISIS symphatisers – who lay siege to Marawi in 2017, leaving thousands homeless and destroying billions worth of public and private property.
Elias, another FVE, has completely turned away from a life of armed violence. Now, he is committed to help promote peace, security and development in his community.
“Ang gagawin ko para makatulong at mapanatili ang kapayapaan dito sa lugar ng Butig, ay lahat ng mga hindi magaganda ay i-di-disregard namin ‘yon,” he said.
“Lahat ng mabuti ay ituturo ko sa ibang tao, sa pamilya namin, mga anak para hindi na mabalikan ang mga nakaraan na nangyari at mapanatili ang kapayapaan dito sa Butig,” Elias added.
Wahab, Elias and other FVEs had the opportunity to share their views and surface pressing concerns they are facing in their community during a peace conversation spearheaded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) last October 18.
The activity was also attended by representatives from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (BARMM) Ministry of Interior and Local Government.
Among the concerns raised during the dialogue were the provision of housing for internally displaced persons, the repair and construction of school buildings, as well as roll out of programs for FVEs, among others.
For both Wahab and Elias, the most effective ways to prevent violent extremism and terrorism is through education.
This is the reason why Wahab wants his children to avail of scholarships from the government, as they will not become vulnerable targets of terrorist groups.
“Kami, hindi namin gusto ‘yung mga susunod sa amin, o kaya ‘yung mga anak namin mapunta na naman sa ibang grupo. So, ang hinihiling namin sa gobyerno, sana po ang aming mga anak, bigyan niyo ng suporta tulad ng pag-aaral, [bigyan ng] scholarship ang mga anak namin,” he said.
Elias said that schools are the places where their children can learn the right values. Thus, it’s very important for dilapidated school buildings to be repaired as soon as possible.
“Kung mapaayos sana natin ang mga eskwelahan dito, kasi alam naman natin na ang eskwelahan ay ang unang nagtuturo sa mga bata para hindi nila magaya kung ano man ang nangyari sa amin. ‘Yun ‘yung nakikita naming daan [upang] mapatuwid natin ang mga bata sa magandang gawain.”
Aside from the issues raised by Wahab and Elias, Zachariah, also an FVE, asked for updates on the government’s programs that are intended for them such as firearms remuneration.
Zaiton L. Abas, chief for the Special Geographic Area Field Office of the MILG, responded to the concerns raised by the FVEs, and assured them that the BARMM is doing its best to address them.
“Ang BARMM government po ay hindi tumitigil maghanap ng paraan upang matulungan kayong lahat. ‘Wag niyo isipin na dini-disregard kayo ng BARMM government. The success of the BARMM government is also your success, hindi mag-ma-materialize ang BARMM government without your cooperation,” he said.
Abas said that peace conversations provide a very good venue to discuss and respond to issues being confronted by communities.
“Kaya nandito ang OPAPRU para magkaroon po tayo ng magandang channel para ma-i-raise niyo po ang mga queries niyo at mga kailangang tulong sa Butig na maiparating sa regional government at mahanapan ng paraan na mapaayos ang mga kailangan natin para maibalik ang magandang pamumuhay sa Butig,” he said.
Creating spaces for dialogue, mutual understanding and social healing
The peace conversation between the FVEs, representatives of BARMM, and the municipal government of Butig was made possible through OPAPRU’s Social Healing and Peacebuilding (SHAPE) Program.
These dialogues with FVEs are among the interventions being carried out under SHAPE, which aim to promote social cohesion and reconciliation among people affected by armed conflict.
In collaboration with its public and private sector partners, SHAPE seeks to mainstream the culture of peace, mutual understanding, and solidarity within and beyond conflict-affected and conflict-vulnerable communities.
According to SHAPE Office Peace Program Officer Nadia S. Lorena, the activity provides a venue for the most vulnerable sectors of the community, particularly, women, youth, children and internally-displaced persons to be active participants in peacebuilding.
“Ang SHAPE po ay binibigyang diin ang kahalagahan ng social cohesion o pagsuporta sa mga platforms na gaya ng ginagawa natin ngayon – espasyo sa mga pag-uusap o peace conversations. Ito ay para manumbalik ang mga nasirang relasyon o ‘yung social fabric na sinasabi natin na naapektuhan ng Marawi siege,” Lorena explained.
“Kasama rin dito ang pagtutok sa pagpapalakas ng mga kabataan natin at kababaihan bilang tagapagtaguyod ng kapayapaan sa ating mga komunidad,” she added.
For his part, OPAPRU Undersecretary David B. Diciano said the participation of FVEs during activity is an important step as they reintegrate into mainstream society. He also reminded them to continue walking the path of peace.
“[N]asa inyo rin ang susi na development at progresibo kasi kayo ‘yung pwersa, kayo ‘yung masa; kayo ‘yung mga katulong sa pag-unlad. Kaya ‘wag tayo gumawa ng anumang bagay na humihila sa pag-angat ng inyong bayan,” Diciano said.
The OPAPRU also distributed hygiene kits, vitamins, toys, canned goods and diapers which were donated by the Church of Latter Day Saints, Makati Medical Center Foundation, Alagang Kapatid Foundation, McDonalds, Jollibee, Individual Partners, Naval Reserve Command Multi-Sectoral Linkaging Committee, Philippine Airforce Civil Military Operations Group, and Philippine Army 103rd Haribon Brigade. END