By Lady Jean Kabagani

MARAWI CITY, Feb. 27 (PIA ICCC) – “Our weakness such as poverty and ignorance was exploited and taken advantage of, we were meant to believe that by fighting, eternal peace can be achieved,” a Maute-IS returnee said during the launching of the reintegration program here on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Abu Mohamad (not his real name) shared how they came to realize that, as terrorist combatant would only destroy the lives of many.

“We have been misled and made to believe that what we were doing was according to the words from the Above, yet we were wrong. It only causes destruction and division among Muslims living here in Marawi City and the entire Lanao del Sur,” Mohamad said.

Mohammad is one of the 135 Maute-IS returnees who returned to the folds of the law.

He testified with other returnees that before they surrendered, stories were rife about the military being rude and all the negative narratives about the organization peddled by Maute-IS leaders.

“During our stay there at the 51st Infantry Battalion, we were treated with kindness and we felt the sincerity in them (military), that they are extending their hands to help us which we never expected that way,” Mohammad added.

His fellow returnees have felt the same kindness from the military, a stark contrast to what the Maute-IS was saying about the government soldiers. This, he said, has changed their mind, which resulted in their return to the government.

Mohammad noted that all of them have brought down their weapons and sincerely surrendered to the government, “in the hope that we will be given a chance to live a normal life and be given a chance to spend our lives for peace.”

He also emphasized that they were all victims of the terrorist group that swooped down to Marawi City.

He added: “The ISIS misled us and made us believe that they are fighting for Islam and for Jihad. We have destroyed a community instead of making one… That is not Islam. That is just pure evil.”  

Abu Mohammad (not his real name) says the returnees are now government affiliates to sustaining peace and order in Lanao del Sur. (Photo by James Umaran/PIA ICCC)

 “If only we could step back in time and do things right, but, Alhamdullihah (thanks God) we were now given a second chance to live again and make a change and a difference for all,” said Mohammad.

Returnees have undergone a series of custodial debriefing.

Presently, the returnees still fear for their lives since they were threatened to be killed by Abu Dar – the current leader of the Maute-IS who is now the target of the ongoing military pursuit operations in Sultan Dumalondong, Lanao del Sur.

Some of the returnees feared that they would be arrested by the policemen if they roam around the province.

However, Col. Romeo Brawner, commander of 103rd Infantry ‘Haribon’ Battalion, explained that every returnee would undergo processing, “Meron po tayong proseso na sinusunod kaya wag po kayong mag-alala (We have processes to follow, so, don’t worry.)”

“You will undergo processing, aalamin natin ‘yung mga background ninyo at yung mga circumstances, yung mga rason kung bakit kayo sumali at sumama sa grupo ng mga terorista at bakit kayo nagbalik-loob. Lahat ng ito kasama ‘dun sa proseso at para mas mapaganda yung pagtulong namin sa inyo kasama dito yung tinatawag ‘arrest order’ na pag uusapan natin with Philippine National Police (PNP). Basta wag kayong mag alala at magtulungan lang tayong lahat,” Brawner added.

[You will undergo processing to check your background, the circumstances and the reasons why you joined them. All this is just part of the process to make everything in order. We will also coordinate with the PNP; don’t worry.]

Brawner clarified all of the returnees are closely monitored by the military and other security forces.

Meanwhile, Mohammad together with the other returnees swore that they would support the military’s campaign for peace and order.

“We are your affiliates in achieving peace in Lanao del Sur and in our country. We are very much thankful to our beloved President Rodrigo Duterte and to all those who believe that we can also help in sustaining peace in our place,” he declared.

The AFP is encouraging other members of Maute-IS to also return to the government and together work for a lasting peace. (LJKabagani/PIA ICCC)