Battle-scarred 10-year-old former Abu Sayyaf sniper wants childhood back

Image by Tempo via Press Reader, Fair Observer, Wikimedia Commons
  • A 10-year-old former Abu Sayyaf sniper who literally and figuratively has battle scars recently went to school
  • When asked why he was mad at the government, the boy said: “They k****d my parents”
  • Through an initiative program, surrenderers like the boy are provided medical services, housing, livelihood training and alternative learning sessions

A ten-year-old has recently gone back to school, in a madrassa where he can continue to learn Arabic and be a child again… because several years ago, he did not even have the opportunity to do so. He was a top-notch sniper in the jungle.

As a member of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, the war-bred boy was deemed as one of the sharpest among the 30 young combatants under the command of a certain Motong Indama.

When Motong surrendered in July 2016, the boy was one of the 11 from their group who followed suit.

He now lives with his uncles under Sumisip town officials’ close supervision.

In a story by  Tempo, when asked why he joined the terrorist group, he said “galit ako sa gobyerno kasi sila ang pumatay sa magulang ko… napagkamalan silang Abu Sayyaf… dumedede pa ako nu’n, kaya hindi ko na rin sila maalala”. 

[I was mad at the government because they k****d my parents. They were falsely identified as Abu Sayyaf members, I was little at the time, still breastfeeding, I could hardly remember them.]

In an interview with Inquirer, the boy said his mother died after being “shot by a soldier” while bathing in a river.

His father and three elder siblings were later allegedly k****d in military operations.

He learned about the violent deaths of his family members from his two remaining siblings who were teens at the time.

The Basilan-native orphan said he was only 6 years old when his brothers took him along to join an Abu Sayyaf group led by Motong and subleader Radsmil Jannatul.

The boy said that as far as he knows, Motong’s group was only “tasked to fight” and did not take hostages, unlike other kidnap-for-ransom activities of their other comrades.

Playground

He learned bang! bang! bang! instead of ABC and his playground was the jungle instead of a school.

He learned how to fire a gun faster than he learned how to read.

He earned the reputation as a sniper because of his marksmanship.

While other children his age play colorful mazes and climbing bars, he could go to steep mountain paths and climb trees with ease to spot enemies from afar.

He walked side-by-side with d***h, if not with bullets, through starvation.

“The best part of my life back then was having vegetables and dried fish for a meal; it was considered that special,” the boy recalled.

When asked about the scar on his cheek, he said that after he got wounded in battle, the adrenaline rush he feels every time a firefight begins made him numb to all the hardships he faced.

The boy admits that life as a bandit was hard. He often wished to be able to play any time, like most children his age.

Despite all the hardships he’s been through, the boy still believes in peace.

He strongly believes that children should enjoy the company of other children and play freely without the fear of being k****d.

PAVE

When news circulated that their leader Motong was turning himself in, the boy’s brothers who had convinced him into the Abu Sayyaf thought the kid has had enough.

Through an initiative called Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE) launched earlier this April, the boy was one of the 179 former Abu Sayyaf members-turned-surrenderers from Basilan and Sulu whom the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government hopes to assist in their return to normal lives.

Under the program, surrenderers are provided housing, medical services, livelihood training and alternative learning sessions.

Governor Mujiv Hataman said the selected PAVE beneficiaries were “those without [criminal] cases.”

At first, the boy thought school will just be boring and tiring. But during the PAVE launch, his face lit up when he was given a black bicycle.

He has no definite plans or dreams, but said he is happy enough to know that he no longer has to hide in the mountains; hungry and in hard conditions.

“Now I just want to study in the Islamic school,” the boy said, and we can’t help but pray that he truly finds the peace he so desires and to catch up with his childhood — as normally as he could.

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