By John Mahusay
ZAMBOANGA CITY – “Tatlong beses na kaming nagbakwit. Lagi kaming napipilitan bumaba dahil sa gulo na dala ng Abu Sayyaf,” village chair Ahajuli Ahajani of Kabbon Takas in Patikul, Sulu recalled their experience during a short program marking their return to their village Friday.
(We had evacuated three times. We were forced to leave our homes due to the mess brought about by the Abu Sayyaf.)
The village chair said “we are thankful to have finally returned to our homes.”
“I feel at ease that by now, we are here to stay,” he intimated.
Some 206 families of Barangay Kabbon Takas have returned to their homes after years of displacement through Balik-Barangay Program, Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said.
Suluanons return home after years of displacement
Camp Navarro, Calarian, Zamboanga City- November 21, 2020
The program, a joint initiative by the provincial government and the military, has brought back the families to their homes, he added.
This, he explained, despite all the hindrances and difficult circumstances including the existence of the invisible enemy, the healing and rebuilding of the previous conflict-affected areas in Sulu continue.
The village was a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). It became a ground zero in the previous years to most armed encounters between the ASG and the government forces.
Two days before the residents returned, a “Jamaah” was held to seek Allah’s healing, guidance, and protection, Vinluan said.
The community believed that Salat al-jama’ah or prayer in congregation (jama’ah) has greater social and spiritual benefit than praying by oneself. While praying, the people stand in straight parallel rows behind the imam, facing the direction of the sacred building or Kaaba in Mecca.
Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan, Joint Task Force Sulu Commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, and other military officers, and local government officials were present during the short program.
During the program, the community signed the People’s Peace Covenant declaring the ASG and other lawless elements as Persona Non-Grata in the community.
The covenant was signed by the local chief executives, the members of the Municipal Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (MTF-ELAC) of Patikul, the military officers, and the barangay officials.
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The provincial government provided each returning family with roofing materials for their houses, grocery packs, sacks of rice, footwears, and P5,000 cash.
In his message, Tan said that this new episode was made possible through the concerted effort of the provincial government, military, and other partner agencies, and stakeholders.
He thanked the “professionalism and sincerity” of the 11th Infantry Division and the Joint task Force Sulu.
The JTF Sulu chief assured the people they will “continue to fulfil their mission.”
Gonzales said the government troops will remain in Sulu.”
“We will do our best to finally make the beautiful province of Sulu peaceful and prosperous,” he concluded.