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A closer look inside an MILF detention facility

Updated

By Keith Bacongco

PIKIT, North Cotabato — Situated in the plains of this marshy town, heavily armed men are stationed around a fortified structure that serves as detention facility for erring villagers.

But this is not a government-ran facility. Instead, it is being maintained by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

JUSTICE MILF-STYLE – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters guard one of the cells inside the Reformatory Center of the MILF in Camp Rajamuda in Pikit, North Cotabato. (Keith Bacongco / MANILA BULLETIN)

JUSTICE MILF-STYLE – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters guard one of the cells inside the Reformatory Center of the MILF in Camp Rajamuda in Pikit, North Cotabato. (Keith Bacongco / MANILA BULLETIN)

The cell, which sits inside a barb wire-fenced compound, is called the Eastern Mindanao Reformation Center, which is, itself, located inside the sprawling Camp Rajamuda of the MILF.

MILF Eastern Mindanao Front Commander Jack Abbas told The Manila Bulletin that the Reformation Center serves not just as detention facility for criminals, but as a rehabilitation center for drug dependents as well.

Abbas pointed out that the punishment for pushers are different than users. “Drug pushers are detained as criminals while users undergo rehabilitation,” he said.

“(Drug dependents) undergo not just physical rehabilitation, but spiritual renewal, as well,” he added saying that an Ustadz visits the facility every week to teach them Islamic values.

Every month, the MILF official added, a physician examines the health condition of the detainees.

Abbas, one of the veteran MILF commanders, added that the number of drug dependent detainees have already dropped following the government’s relentless war on drugs.

On August 21, the MILF gave Manila Bulletin an exclusive first look of the detention facility. During the visit, there were only three detainees sharing one of the three cells, with an estimated size of about 16 square meters each.

The facility has a common kitchen and a restroom.

Right at the gate of the compound stands a mosque where the detainees are allowed to say their noontime prayer along with their guards and villagers.

Yusoph Mohammad, the MILF jail warden, told The Manila Bulletin that many have already been released after they have completed the maximum four-month detention.

“But for high profile or criminal cases, they are transferred to another facility in Camp Darapanan. This Reformation Center mainly functions as rehabilitation or disciplinary actions to drug dependents,” Mohammad explained.

Camp Darapanan is the MILF’s main headquarters located at Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao.

Mohammad added that the facility could accommodate up to 30 persons. However, at the height of MILF’s anti-drug campaign in 2016 to 2017, the detainees cramped in the cells ballooned to 60.

Since they could not be accommodated inside the facility, he bared that some were allowed to sleep in the nearby madrasah and sentry huts. “They could not just slip away, the are a lot of heavily-armed guards around.”

One of the detainees, who asked not to be named, told The Manila Bulletin that his parents turned him in to the MILF due to excessive drug use.

He has been detained for over four months already. He admitted that he was comfortable in the Reformation Center because he has learned a lot on the teachings of Islam.

“Mas maganda dito dahil nakapagdasal pa ako at mas komportable dito dahil hindi masikip at mainit,” the 38-year old father of seven told Manila Bulletin.

Mohammad explained that some detainees’ term needed to be extended because their parents have refused to take them back.

Established in 2009, the facility was gradually built through contributions from the local community. “Even some of the food supplies for the guards and detainees sometimes come from the pockets of ordinary villagers,” a ranking MILF political officer said.

Aside from the perimeter fence of the compound, a seven-foot high concrete wall surrounds the facility with an estimated perimeter of about 200 meters.

“Now we only have three detainees left. This could mean a good news because it may be an indicator that many may have already stopped their bad deeds,” Mohammad concluded.

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