Maute child combatants? Witnesses claim to have seen a few

(CNN Philippines, May 31) — Mike Abbas showed up all  by himself at the evacuation center at the Iligan School of Fisheries in Barangay Buruun to get food packs, blankets, medicines and other supplies.

Abbas and his family were among thousands of residents who fled clashes between the Maute fighters and government troops in Marawi City.

Abbas wanted to take his eight-year-old son to the evacuation center for a medical checkup, but the boy was afraid to leave their relatives' house thinking he will go back to Marawi.

"Hanggang ngayon parang nagka-trauma siya. Natakot talaga sa baril. Tsaka nakita niya na mga may dalang baril… Paano'ng 'di ka matatakot eh maliliit yung nagdadala ng baril, mga bata pa,"  Abbas said.

[Translation: Until now he's traumatized. He's really scared of the gun, and when he saw the one carrying it… How can you not be scared when it's a young child carrying the gun.]

CNN Philippines talked to an elderly  woman who refused to be interviewed on camera, and also said she saw several child combatants with the Maute group. She said it seemed some children were forcibly taken by the terrorists.

Maute Recruitment and Training

Namra Tampi, also from Marawi, did not see the young fighters, but recalled that sometime in April his two grandsons, aged 14 and 16, told him that someone who introduced himself as a Maute member approached them.

"Meron, mga apo ko nga nire-recruit nila eh. Kino-convince nila ang mga bata, 'pag namatay ka derecho sa langit, " Tampi told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: They're recruiting my grandsons. They're convincing the children, when you die, you will go straight to heaven.]

Tampi discouraged his grandsons from joining the terrorists, adding groups like the Maute have no ideology.

Looking around wary of possible 'spies' from the terrorist group, Tampi sad he doesn't care if anyone from Maute hears what he's saying.

"Mga traidor mga Maute na 'yan. Ok na ko, mamatay na ko. Papatay ka ng tao? Ano ba yan! Bawal yan, kahit anong relihiyon, kahit sa Islam," he said.

[Translation: They're traitors. Those from Maute. It's okay if they kill me. They kill people? That's not allowed in any religion, not even Islam!]

Child combatants with the Maute group highly likely

A purported training video recovered  by the military during clearing operations after the Butig seige in Lanao del Sur in 2016 shows several children with Maute members.

They are seen jogging and doing exercises with the adults.

Photos  also show children wearing head bands with what appear to be symbols of ISIS, and  a boy carrying what looked like an ISIS flag.

Dean Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines says enticing young Muslim men to join Maute and other radical groups is considered a way to heaven, or martyrdom. 

Young men are told they will become part of the  jihad — a holy war or struggle, as freedom fighters both for the group, and for the Bangsamoro or Moro nation.

"Ine-emphasize nila — you die as a martyr. 72 " houri" or virgins waiting for you. This is part of their propaganda, especially for  the  young ones madali paniwalain. Lalo na kung may vengeance, o nakaramdam ng bombardment, madali na udyukan…Sabi nga, one nation's terrorist is another nations' freedom fighter," Wadi said.

Other groups in the past were known to use child soldiers like the New People's Army, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and Abu Sayyaf. 

A Department of  Labor study entitled "Child Soldiers in the Philippines" by Merliza Makinano notes different groups, have different uses and  methods of recruiting child combatants.  For the Abu Sayyaf,  minors are used not only as combatants but also as human shields and hostages. It promises young recruits a salary, firearms, and even scholarship abroad.

CNN Philippines asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao about child combatants seen with the Maute group in attacks last week, but both said they have not received any such reports.