By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY — Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Chief Minister Ahod “Murad” Ebrahim and House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman agreed in a meeting here to formulate a program to entice Islamist or extremist militants into the social mainstream.
Hataman, former governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), visited here last Friday and conveyed to Ebrahim his plan to introduce in the 18thCongress a bill creating a program to entice Moro guerillas back to the folds of law with rehabilitation and life-enhancing assistance.
The proposal would focus on hardcore ideologues and combatants of the outlawed Abu Sayyaf Group, the Dawla Islamiya known as Maute group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), said Hataman, who serves as lone congressman of Basilan.
As ARMM governor, Hataman launched in Basilan in 2017 the Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE), through which more than 200 Abu Sayyaf fighters surrendered and were provided with skills trainings and livelihood startup assistance.
PAVE projects eventually made Abu Sayyaf guerillas “irrelevant” in Basilan, with the remaining hardcore leaders shifting to other areas, notably in the hinterlands of Sulu province, according to the Western Mindanao Command.
Basilan Gov. Jim Hataman-Salliman, elder brother of the former ARMM chief executive, announced early this month the completion of housing units called “baituus salaam” (house of peace) for surrendered Abu Sayyaf members.
At the Friday meeting here, sources said, Ebrahim concurred with Hataman’s plan to introduce an enabling bill that will expand conciliatory efforts for IS-inspired militants of the Abu Sayyaf, BIFF and Dawla Islamia (Maute group) that still operate in remote villages of Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur.
“If the government has a program for members of the New People’s Army, why not extend a hand of reconciliation to these religious extremists, too? Some officials of our national security organizations also call the NPA a terror group,” Hataman was quoted as telling Murad during their hour-long meeting.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana and former governor-turned-Congressman Esmael G. Mangudadatu of Maguindanao are said to support Hataman’s proposal.
Mangudadatu and Sobejana had jointly carried out pacification efforts that led to the surrender of at least 24 BIFF fighters in three batches from 2018 up to early this year, published reports said.
“Extremist militants are wrongly indoctrinated about religion…If they will realize that they can still have second lease of life, in harmony with all people around them, surely they will come out and reform,” Mangudadatu said.
Mangudadatu, a former three-term governor, said he would readily co-sponsor Hataman’s bill.