TIRED OF FIGHTING Eight members of Abu Sayyaf opt to surrender to the 18th Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Ivan San Jose in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan, on Saturday morning. —JULIE ALIPALA
UNGKAYA PUKAN, Basilan — A few months ago, 63-year-old farmer Ben Asani decided to give up two decades of banditry and voluntarily surrender to the 18th Infantry Battalion (IB).
“I am old, my knees are too weak to run in the forest,” said Asani, who had been a member of the Abu Sayyaf group since the time of its slain founder, Abdurajak Janjalani.
“Besides, I also want to have a house like the ones given to former Abus,” Asani told the Inquirer in an interview at the 18th IB headquarters in Barangay Bohe Pahu in Ungkaya Pukan.
Asani’s daughter, Ling, was one of the witnesses when he swore an oath to help the government fight the Abu Sayyaf.
“I am happy,” the 15-year-old Ling said in Tagalog. “We can sleep at night with less worry. I can go to school and finish my education.”
“Hopefully, we can have a house like the others who surrendered earlier to the military,” she added.
The houses were provided by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) under a program for surrendered bandits.
“I hope and pray that I will get one in the future. I know those houses are for surrendered Abu Sayyaf, because I am one of the carpenters who built those houses,” Asani said.
Aside from the housing, other surrendered bandits said the prospect of being able to come out of hiding and walk about free of the fear of being shot, killed or arrested were more enticing.
One of those was 49-year-old rubber tapper Abdul Anjilul, who claimed he was not really a member of the notorious bandit group.
“I gave them food and materials, but the people in barangay tagged me as Abu Sayyaf,” Anjilul said.
200 have surrendered
“I went into hiding but I am tired of being hunted down even if my only mistake was to be a supporter,” said Anjilul, who has seven children. “I need to clear my name so I surrendered with my Garand.”
Col. Fernando Reyeg, brigade commander of the 104th Army Brigade and head of Joint Task Force Basilan, said more than 200 former Abu Sayyaf were now registered under the Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) in Basilan.
“They started surrendering in 2016 when the Duterte government opened its doors to bandits who want to start clean,” Reyeg said. “We are doing a lot of confidence-building measures to bring them back to mainstream and live normal lives.”
Lt. Col. Ivan San Jose, commander of the 18th IB, said eight Abu Sayyaf had surrendered over the past two months and they had turned over one M16, 1 carbine and 14 vintage M1 Garands.
Both officers said all surrenderers would be provided assistance under PAVE, although those who gave up recently might not be qualified for benefits under ARMM programs that were going to end soon.
But San Jose said this matter could be solved.
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