Bill eyes benefits for ex-terrorists

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    A BILL seeking to give former members of terror groups a chance to return to the fold — through a government program that will even provide them with benefits — has been filed at the House of Representatives.

    Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman of Basilan, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan filed House Bill No. 4585 following the recent spate of bombings in Mindanao.

    “This bill is meant to counter and address violent extremism and terrorism and encourage members of these groups to return to the fold and abandon this kind of life,” Hataman said.

    Sangcopan said the measure, which seeks to establish a program for preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) to fight the ever-present threat of terrorism is very timely, noting the recent bombings in Sulu “saw the escalation of atrocities carried out by local extremist groups.”

    The bombing of a military camp in Indanan, Sulu in June this year is the first confirmed case of a Filipino as a perpetrator of a suicide bombing in the country. There have been four confirmed cases of suicide bombing in the country, with the three others perpetrated by foreigners.

    Two other recent bombings were perpetrated by violent extremist groups. One is in front of a public market in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, on September 7, where seven people were hurt, and the second in Indanan, Sulu, on September 9, where the lone casualty was the perpetrator herself.

    Under the bill, a former member of violent extremist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group will be considered a “returnee” if he or she returns to the fold, reforms, and reintegrates into society.

    Among the benefits eyed for returnees are financial aid to families while the returnee is being processed for enrolment into the program; livelihood assistance to improve their socio-economic conditions; support to relocation or housing services for the returnees and their families; educational and training assistance; enrollment in the National Health Insurance Program; and, psycho-social support.

    On the prevention side, the measure has an array of projects and activities envisioned to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the appeal of radicalism to the people, especially the youth. These include activities promoting good governance, upholding the rule of law and fighting graft and corruption.

    The PCVE bill draws its inspiration from the success of the Program against Violent Extremism implemented by Hataman when he was governor of the now-defunct ARMM, where security forces and local government units supported each other in fighting violent extremism.

    “Preventing the radicalization of the youth is vital in our efforts against violent extremism. But winning back those who are already members of extremist groups and supporting them as they return to the fold of the law is equally important,” said the bill’s authors.

    “The reintegration efforts sought to be implemented by this measure could hopefully contribute to the end of violent extremism in the country,” they added.

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