“Decommissioning” children of MILF combatants: bikes, toys and clothes in exchange for toy guns and MILF uniforms

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 03 October) — “Huwag ka nang maglaro n’yan,” (Don’t play with that anymore), Dr. Arlyn Jawad-Jumao-as asked a four-year old girl who was hugging tightly her wooden toy armalite. She called her Baby, and she had a fierce look for a toddler who just had her head wound treated in her private clinic.

Doc Arlyn as she is fondly called, is a pediatrician working in Lamitan City in the island-province of Basilan. She lives in Zamboanga City but traveled to Lamitan City by ferry, daily,  before the pandemic. These days, she would go every Monday and come  home weekends.

Married to a Tausug retired military officer, Col. Abner Jumao-as, with whom she has three children, Doc Arlyn now spends most of her days in Basilan, particularly in Lamitan City where pediatricians are few and far between.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed her work schedule.

A few months ago, a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) named Rajan Abdurakman, brought his daughter to the doctor’s clinic, severely bleeding.

As it happened, Abdurakman’s father who was behind the wheel, accidentally moved the vehicle on the reverse while the little girl was standing behind the vehicle. This caused her to be seriously wounded, her scalp almost fully ripped that when brought to the clinic, Doc Arlyn thought she would need to bring her to Zamboanga City because of the girl’s severe bleeding.

She actually thought the patient was a boy.

Baby Abdurakman, 4, daughter of MILF Commander Rajan Abdurakman, is set to be ‘decommissioned’ in Basilan on October 4, as she gives up her MILF combatant uniform and wooden M16 in favor of colorful clothes, a teddy bear, toys, and a bicycle during the 7th Children’s Festival of Love and Peace. Photo courtesy of ARLYN JAWAD-JUMAO-AS

“All I thought kay laki s’ya kay naka MILF uniform, murag Mulan ang porma (I thought she was a boy because she was wearing the MILF uniform,  like Mulan (referring to the Disney character),” she recalled. She called her Baby, a term of endearment for her young patients.

The child’s X-ray showed she did not develop scalp rupture, so Doc Arlyn kept on attending to her regularly for a week for the dressing of the wound. When she was fully recovered, she came again, this time wearing once more her MILF uniform and her wooden firearm.

Children of  War

This concerned Doc Arlyn, who founded Children of War (Basilan) Association, Inc. She decided to take the opportunity to speak with the MILF commander.

After 17 years of peace negotiations, the MILF and the Philippine government signed a peace pact — the  Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) – in March 2014, paving the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The peace agreement’s enabling law,  Republic Act 11054 was passed in July 2018 and was ratified in January 2019. A month later, President Rodrigo Duterte  appointed members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and the BARMM was inaugurated on March 29, 2019.

As agreed upon in the CAB, the BTA is an 80-member, MILF-led body that would serve as the governing body in the three-year transition period until June 30, 2022. The transition period, however, has been extended until 2025 by Congress with the enrolled bill awaiting President Duterte’s signature.

“Bapa,” Doc Arlyn addressed Abdurakman, “Tapos na man ang gulo, ‘di ba? Na decommission na ang lahat, baka puwedeng humingi ng regalo sa ‘yo?” (The war is over, right? Everyone has been decommissioned, maybe I can ask a gift from you?)

Decommissioning of the MILF’s 40,000 combatants and thousands of weapons,  involves four phases and the government and MILF as of October 1, 2021, have yet to proceed to Phase 3.

But Abdurakman asked the doctor what gift did she want. She replied: “Baka puwedeng si Baby, tanggalin na natin ‘yang damit na sinusuot n’ya. Huwag mo na’ng pagamitin ng ganyan (referring to the camouflage uniform), kasi magiging mana na ang mga bata sa ‘yo na sana, wala na’ng uniform, wala na’ng baril-barilan lalo na ‘tong si Baby” (Maybe  you can stop making Baby wear that uniform? Otherwise she will end up like you. Hopefully, there will be no more uniform and no more toy guns for Baby).

She pointed out to him the need to be an example, to lead the community by example, so that in doing so, he would encourage other MILF combatants to let their children give up their toys and uniforms as well.

Abdurakman consented. “Walang problema (No problem), Mama Doc,” as most MILF members address her.

MILF uniforms and wooden armalites

Doc Arlyn patiently waited for the most appropriate time that she could let the child voluntarily give up her MILF uniform and wooden armalite. She went to the child’s residence in Barangay Ba-as, once a conflict-stricken community, and learned that four-year old Baby was not the only child with MILF uniforms and wooden armalites.

“Their toy armalites even use glass marbles as bullets!” she exclaimed, sharing that these are called “boga,” emphasizing that these marbles hurt a child even during play. “I had a patient before whose bone in the forearm was broken when hit by this marble or boga. Pity the child who gets hit,” she added.

Doc Arlyn also remembered seeing children in Ulitan in Ungkayan Pukan town playing with a wooden version of the RPG (rocket-propelled grenades), made of bamboo.

“The imaginations of these children are so intense. That’s why I want this stopped. It has to be stopped. I am glad the MILF is supporting me,” she said.

During a community activity this year to check on people’s health relative to COVID-19, Doc Arlyn asked who among the children had camouflage uniforms and toy guns, specifically armalites. The pediatrician in her was surprised that more than 20 children came in their MILF uniforms, bearing toy armalites.

This inspired Doc Arlyn to think of a way to let the children, especially girls like Baby Abdurakman,  hand over their uniforms and toy weapons.

She further discussed this with another MILF Commander, Dan Asnawie, who in turn helped her, as he reached out to the Bangsamoro Parliament.

In conflict-afflicted Basilan, there are children in the mountains who — for lack of access to toy stores — craft their own toys from whatever indigenous raw materials they may find.

Coconut farmer Ahmed Akelen of Adjul town told MindaNews in a telephone interview that he would craft for his younger brothers and his friends toy guns made of coconut palms after cutting the palm leaves and carefully polishing the long stem.

“It’s no longer wartime”

It was only for child’s play and fun, he said. But Doc Arlyn, herself a child of war, (she was orphaned at an early age when her father was killed in battle), disagreed.

“It is no longer wartime,” she said, and when this practice is tolerated, this kind of play and fun would go with the children’s thoughts and outlook as they grow up.

“If we just leave the kids be, there are manifestations that the children will be lost in their path to peace, especially these people up in Basilan’s mountains. No matter what, I cannot leave my advocacy, not just in children’s health,” she said as she explained further that educating parents on children’s health has to go hand-in-hand when provided with treatment so that the illness would not recur.

“The challenge in Basilan is double: peace and order in the time of COVID-19. There have been more who died from  bullets, rather than of COVID. So this should not be neglected, even the after-effect. Let us just innovate, and deliver fun to the children,” she said.

In the past weeks, she wrote friends and those who are likely to help share bicycles and toys, even colorful clothes, for children aged 17 and younger who would willingly give up their MILF camouflage uniforms and toy guns in exchange for these items.

MILF commander Asnawie also did his part in reaching out to BARMM officials. The office of Bangsamoro Parliament’s Minority Leader Laisa Masuhud Alamia sent bikes for the orphans and children of war. Other individuals and personal friends in Basilan also sent food packs and toys.

She said she and volunteers helping her out would do the “decommissioning” of the children of MILF combatants  — with bikes, toys, clothes and food packs among others, in exchange for their MILF uniforms and toy guns, on Monday, October 4, during the Festival of Hope, an annual activity the Children of War Foundation undertakes.

“Usually, we would set a place and let the children come.  This year, the Festival organizers and supporters will go the communities,” the doctor said.

A float parade is set and participating military units include the 68th Infantry Battalion with its mascot, the 18th Infantry Battalion will have a Disney-themed float, Children of War would have colorful toys and teddy bears, the MILF would have its own float, and also the Abu Sayyaf surrenderers, with their float loaded with vegetables that they harvested as fruits of their toil in their new life. “It is a celebration of peace,” Doc Arlyn emphasized.

She expressed hope that the Mulan-like four-year old Baby Abdurakman and her playmates in four barangays in Basilan (Ba-as, Baguindan, Silangkong, and Ulitan) would hand over their MILF uniforms and wooden firearms on Monday.

Stripped of their MILF uniforms and toy guns, Doc Arlyn is optimistic that these  children of war would no longer play war games and shout “bang, bang!”  (Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)

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