By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Dozens of former combatants of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and some victims of ASG-staged atrocities in Basilan have undergone vocational skills training designed to integrate and turn them into productive components of the society, according to officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Experts of the ARMM’s Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) trained 52 former ASG fighters, alongside selected residents of ASG-affected areas on bread and pastry-making, welding, carpentry, and dressmaking last November 7 to 8 in Basilan, Regional Information Director Amir Mawallil said in a statement.
The ex-rebels took their oath of allegiance to peaceful life on November 7, preceding the training on each vocational work of their choice, Mawallil said.
John Louie Balagot, ARMM Regional Cabinet Secretary and PAVE program manager, said the training phase formed part of the regional government’s pioneer program allocated with P20-million fund to provide various interventions to former ASG members in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawiu-Tawi.
Balagot, citing official records, said 272 ASG have returned to the folds of law since the introduction of PAVE late last year by ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman.
Hataman, in an earlier interview with the Manila Bulletin, said his office had coordinated with higher authorities for the application of PAVE concepts for other violent ideology-inspired militants in ARMM, notably the combatants from the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao.
Civilian and military authorities in Maguindanao have received in separate ceremonies close to 70 BIFF fighters who opted to live peaceful life. Most of the ceremonies were attended by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division, it was learned.