In Basilan, wives of ex-MILF fighters seek end to ‘gun culture’ | Inquirer News
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BRINGING PEACE TO CONFLICT-TORN AREAS

In Basilan, wives of ex-MILF fighters seek end to ‘gun culture’

/ 04:35 AM December 29, 2021

SUPPORT SuadaAsnawie, the wife of a Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander, supports the campaign to discourage Basilan children from playing with toy guns. (JULIE S.ALIPALA / Inquirer Mindanao)

LAMITAN CITY, Basilan, Philippines —Wearing his Type A military attire — a black shirt and a pair of camouflage pants complete with a soldier’s hat and his precious wooden toy gun — 5-year-old Mudaipi Ismail Jaalim accompanied his mother, Nurmiya Jaalim, to a special event in Al-Barka town, Basilan province, recently.

“We are attending the decommissioning of our children’s toy guns,” said Nurmiya, 35, mother of two, who also wore her best black burqa printed with pink flowers.

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Mudaipi’s voluntary turnover of his toy gun earned him a small bicycle from the group, Save the Children of War in Mindanao.

Also dressed for the occasion, Jovina Muctar, 35, brought along her two girls who exchanged their plastic and wooden guns for toy airplanes and cars.

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Nurmiya and Jovina were among the wives of combatants under the 114th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Heeding the call by Save the Children of War in Mindanao, both mothers decided to convince their children to discard their toy guns in favor of educational toys.

Symbolic

In the longer run, they, along with other wives of MILF combatants, hope to see local governments sustain the campaign for the sake of building peaceful communities in Basilan province.

Dr. Arlyn Jawad Jumaoas, the group’s chair, said they had to wean children away from the gun culture in their former conflict-ridden communities to stop the cycle of violence that could trap their young minds.

The organization’s recent program for children resembled the process of decommissioning BIAF combatants and their weapons.

“I am aware that children are hooked on [playing] guns,” Jumaoas said. “Each child has a toy gun at home, so as a symbolic way of decommissioning, we urge their parents to do the same—replace the children’s toy guns with other toys or bicycles. We are happy that many parents are heeding our call,” she added.

Jumaoas said years of conflict and war had ingrained among children a “gun culture,” which groups helping local communities view as the deeper challenge to efforts of bringing postconflict normalization.

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Bangsamoro children in Basilan have been used to starting their day playing with toy guns. Although most of these toys were handmade by their fathers, these unwittingly served as an early training in appreciating weapons.

Challenge

According to Nurmiya, Mudaipi sleeps with his toy gun, a wooden replica of an M16 rifle.

“They see their father, an MILF fighter, holding a gun. It’s the way of life here in the mountains. My son is already familiar with his father’s weapon,” she said.

Even Jovina’s two daughters are already at ease playing with toy guns. “Their father [has been telling] them that having a gun is a protection,” she said.

Jovina and Nurmiya’s husbands were among the 106 combatants from Basilan covered by the second phase of the decommissioning process that started in September 2019 and ended in March 2020, and whose weapons had been put beyond use.

Up to 40,000 MILF fighters are to be transitioned to peaceful and productive civilian life based on the normalization track of the peace deal inked between the MILF and the government in 2014.

But in Basilan, the process is fraught with challenges as the former fighters’ anxiety over the presence of other armed groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf, makes them hold on to their guns to ensure their families’ safety.

Election issue

Jumaoas, a doctor based in Lamitan, said unending conflicts had scarred families in Basilan, especially in areas where the MILF operates.

She started the group seven years ago when they began rescuing children maimed by explosions. “We transported kids who lost limbs, eyes, arms—at times, even life—[and sought] medical attention [for them]. It is painful to see children suffering and growing up like their fathers or their mothers,” Jumaoas said.

“Even to this day, we still receive reports of more people dying due to armed conflict than due to COVID-19,” she said.

Prior to the signing into law of Republic Act No. 11593, the extension of the Bangsamoro transition to 2025, wives of combatants were hoping that candidates for the 2022 elections, particularly in Basilan, would put a premium on education and women development, to go alongside with the normalization track.“[Minors have embraced violence] because it has become part of their lives. Our kids are waking up to the sound of bomb [explosions] and gunfire and the smell of [things] burning,” said Suada Asnawie, wife of Hadji Dan Asnawie, commander of the BIAF’s 114th Base Command in Basilan.

Asnawie, who is running as city councilor of Lamitan, has made some plans for legislation.

“Win or lose, we are pushing for the banning of toy guns in Basilan. These are just toys, but the way these have been ingrained in the minds of our young kids, there’s a corresponding price to it. Banning these toy guns and offering them better educational toys will encourage children to be better members of society,” Asnawie said.

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