From rebels to humanitarian volunteers

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Jan) – For some former armed combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), transitioning into humanitarian workers, even helping out in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao’s relief mission to Batangas for the Taal victims, was a pleasant surprise.

Members of “Bantay Tulay,” many of whom are MILF combatants who have not been decommissioned yet, help out in humanitarian efforts. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

“It’s hard to express the feeling. We’re so elated of this transformation we’re experiencing now,” said Muhalidin Guialil, a former squad commander under the Task Force Ittihad, the MILF’s unit in charge of settling disputes among members, and dealing with splinter groups.

Guialil was with five other battle-tested MILF warriors in BARMM’s “Tabang” outreach mission only a few days ago, wherein the regional government sent P2-million worth of relief items to Batangas for the needy victims of the volcanic eruption.

“Had we not reached into a peace agreement, we could not experience this life—the dignity and pride of doing service to our kababayans,” said Guialil, 40, who is now savoring civilian life with his wife and three children.

He said there is no more fear now, of hiding from military operatives, as compared to the days when they were still fighting government troops.

Guialil now heads the “Bantay Tulay” volunteers, which include MILF members who are not decommissioned combatants yet, under the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government, monitoring the clogging caused by water hyacinths in the rivers connecting Maguindanao and Cotabato City that cause flooding.

Furthermore, Guialil and dozens of his comrades underwent water and rescue trainings (WASAR) to enhance their capacity as active responders in their respective communities during emergency situations and calamities.

Aside from the former MILF warriors, members of the Dawlah Islamiyah Mindanao and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who yielded to the government recently are undergoing a similar process.

Sixteen BIFF members surrendered to the Army’s 6th Infantry Division a few days ago. Twelve of them come from the area of 33rd Infantry Battalion operating in the borders of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.

Lt. Col. Elmer Boongaling, 33IB commander, said they are working with the BARMM government in the deradicalization process of the returnees.

“We want them to go back to their communities not any more inclined to holding guns,” he said.

With the help of a special program under BARMM’s Health, Education, Livelihood, Peace and Order Synergy (HELPS) and Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (READI), former combatants are assisted in their reintegration to civilian life, given a monthly cash incentive of P5,000 for a start.

The military and the returnees will work together in community services as part of the program.

“We conduct cleanup drives in their villages, sometimes they serve as speakers in our campaign against violent extremism,” Boongaling added.

“They will not just reform themselves but they will be an asset in their own communities in helping government to uplift their conditions,” said Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo.

This week the ministry is in intensive strategic workshop in Samal Island for a re-energized and more pro-active approaches as the agency is manned with new and old employees.

Sinarimbo pushes for a more drastic reform approach towards Bangsamoro government brand of service “moral governance”. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)