By Bonita Ermac
MARAWI CITY – At least one hundred thirty-five former Maute-Islamic State (IS) terrorist group members were formally integrated into the government’s returnee integrated program in a ceremony held at the Social Hall, New Capitol complex here Tuesday.
The program is aimed at helping the former terrorist rebels to start a new life.
Col. Romeo S. Brawner Jr., 103rd Infantry (Haribon) brigade commander, said the group was composed of Maute-IS fighters, who surrendered during and towards the end of the Marawi siege in 2017.
They were mainly fighters, with an 11-year-old boy as the youngest among them.
“It means, that some of them, ito iyong lumalaban nung unang mga araw nung siege, din ito iyong mga nakatakas nung hindi pa na-cordoned iyong main battle area (they were the ones who fought in the first days of the siege. They were also the ones who managed to escape when the battle area was not yet cordoned off)”, he said.
Brawner also bared that most of those who surrendered likewise turned over their firearms.
Some were supporters of the terrorist group, while others were relatives of the fighters, he added.
Brawner also confirmed that one of the returnees was a sub-leader named White Lawaan, who had been included in the AFP’s most wanted list.
Brawner said the returnees will not only receive benefits, but they were also urged to help the government by convincing their former colleagues to surrender.
“If they have any information to help us in our program in campaigning to have peace, they should inform us also”, he added.
The returnees also received seedlings, among others, which symbolize their return to the community as peace-loving civilians. Most of them were farmers before they were recruited by the terrorist group.
According to one of them, Khan, they were just victims and were deceived.
“Our poverty and ignorance was exploited and taken advantage of. We were made to believe that by joining, eternal peace will be achieved”, said former Maute-IS member Khan.
“We have been misled, pinaniwala kami na (they made us believe that)) what we’re doing have high rewards from above, yet we were wrong. It only caused disruption at di pagkakaisa ng mga (and disunity among the) Muslim”, he stated.
They pledged support to the government and promised never to go back to the group.
A comprehensive profiling of Maute-IS returnees was also conducted February 26 to know their reasons and issues of joining to address their respective needs including their families.
The returnees will be closely monitored to avoid incident to happen again of which one had returned to the group, said Brawner.
The local government will be the lead of this re-integration program while AFP and PNP are there to support the national and local government.
Other private organizations and international partners like United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are pouring in support for the welfare of the returnees.