Gov't to give shelter, livelihood to Abu Sayyaf surrenderers

MANILA, Philippines – The government will provide assistance to Abu Sayyaf members who have returned to the fold of the law, Deputy Peace Adviser Nabil Tan said on  Tuesday, March 27.

Tan said in a news briefing that President Rodrigo Duterte himself ordered the inclusion of Abu Sayyaf surrenderers in the government's assistance program.

“There is now an issued presidential directive to assist – to include the Abu Sayyaf, not only the NPA (New People’s Army) rebels, in the government’s assistance [program],” he said in a news conference that highlighted the government's progress in its 4-year-old peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

At the inspection of firearms handed over by Abu Sayyaf surrenderers to the military in Patikul, Sulu, on Monday, March 26, Duterte said he was there to know if the surrenderers were getting the same treatment as  rebel returnees from the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

He said once members of the NPA surrender to the government, "there is somebody presiding over the ceremony that will take care of them," give them shelter, and help them learn the trade they want to pursue to earn a living.

The President said on Monday he even brought Secretary Guiling Mamondiong of the Technical Educational Skills and Development Authority (TESDA) with him in Sulu, just in case any of the Abu Sayyaf surrenderers wanted to learn a skill.

In the past few years, the President had mentioned he was willing to talk peace with the terrorists, though in other instances, he shut the door to any negotiations with them and threatened to eat them "alive with salt and vinegar."

Tan said the Abu Sayyaf surrenderers would be subject to the same conditions given to NPA rebel returnees.

“They should be given conditions to do it. The reason for their joining is marginalization; it’s a symptom. It’s not the main sickness,” he added.

Tan added that Abu Sayyad surrenderers accused of crimes would still be subjected to charges and would have to prove their innocence in court. –