PATIKUL, Sulu (MindaNews / 11 June) — Be our guests.
A ranking military official in Sulu province is inviting ourists to visit this island-province, citing significantly improved peace and order situation in what used to be the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin Batara, commander of the 1103rd Infantry Brigade, issued the invitation Friday following the ceremonial groundbreaking rites of the reformatory center in Barangay Langhub intended for Abu Sayyaf members who have surrendered.
“Sulu is relatively peaceful. For quite a long time, there have been no violent clashes (between our troops and the Abu Sayyaf) … Ang laki ng pinagbago ng peace and order ng Sulu, ang last kidnapping was two years ago,” he told reporters.
He urged tourists to visit Sulu for them to feel the vibes, savor the culinary offerings, experience the district cultural heritage and frolic in the white sand beaches.
In the past two years under the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic tourism thrived in this island province as several beach resorts opened to accommodate fellow islanders who could not travel beyond Sulu.
Aside from the beaches, the mountains of Sulu also beckon tourists. During the pandemic, mountaineering became a fad along with airsoft team game, biking and motorcycling.
Batara noted that in the past five years, at least 400 Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu, have surrendered to the government, tired, according to him, of running away from sustained military operations against them.
In December 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte activated the 11th Infantry (Alakdan) Division in Jolo, Sulu at the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista headquarters.
Many of the surrenderers are in their communities but once the reformatory center or halfway house is completed, they will be brought there by batches to reorient them and provide them with livelihood trainings so they can integrate into mainstream society, Batara said.
He added that one of the livelihood opportunities could be as tourist guides, should the tourism industry here thrive because of the relatively peaceful condition here.
The general said the Abu Sayyaf strength in Sulu has been significantly weakened but not yet defeated.
According to him, the military continues to go after Abu Sayyaf leaders Mundi Sawadjaan and Radulan Sahiron in Sulu.
But he noted that the Abu Sayyaf forces in Sulu now “are not that strong unlike in the last two years.”
Naguib Sinarimbo, Minister of the Interior and Local Government who led the ground breaking ceremony for the reformatory center, said the facility seeks to inculcate a culture of peace and a new law-abiding mindset among the Abu Sayyaf surrenderers, as well as to train them to become productive members of mainstream society.
“It is not sufficient that there is no war or conflict. There must be substantial changes in their lives that will give them a new hope for a brighter future,” he said.
Sinarimbo and Batara signed the memorandum of agreement for the construction of the reformatory center.
The Bangsamoro Government, Sinarimbo said, also hopes to directly connect Sulu to the mainland Bangsamoro region, like Tawi-Tawi which on Thursday received the first commercial flight from Cotabato operated by Philippine Airlines.
“The inaugural Cotabato-Tawi-Tawi flight was a success and we’re optimistic that it can be sustained with the interest shown by the public,” he said.
Sinarimbo, also the Bangsamoro region’s spokesperson, said they are targeting to mount a direct Cotabato – Sulu flight, and eventually the Cotabato – Basilan route, to directly integrate growth of the island-provinces to the regional economy.
Abibazar Sali, chief of the MILG-Project Management Development Division, said the reformatory center costs P25 million.
Half of the amount has already been released to the project, he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)