Duterte wants housing, other aid for 'Abus' who surrender

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 27) — President Rodrigo Duterte wants members of the country's most violent terror group to avail of government social aid, including housing and livelihood — if they turn themselves in.

According to Undersecretary Nabil Tan of the Officer of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), this was contained in a presidential directive Mr. Duterte issued during a cabinet meeting in Malacañang last March 19.

"Ang inaano lang ni Presidente, if we are assisting those NPAs (New People's Army rebels) who are coming back, have come back to the folds of the law, it should not deprive other groups like the Abu Sayyaf," Tan explained.

Defense chief Delfin Lorenzana and OPAPP Secretary Jesus Dureza both confirmed the President's order.

"In fact in Jolo (last Monday), I was with him. He reiterated the same message," Dureza said. "Sabi nya, e puro naman yan lumalaban, at inaasikaso natin yung mga komunista. Bakit hindi yung mga Bangsamoro na lumalaban din?"

"Nagbigay kayo ng libreng bahay doon sa mga NPA na pagbaba, libreng bahay din yung mga Abu Sayyaf na magbaba," Dureza quoted the President as saying.

In a text message to CNN Philippines, Lorenzana said he agreed with the President.

"His directive is that everything the NPA returnees receive the ASG will likewise get them," Lorenzana said.

"This does not apply to those with warrants for crimes committed."

Tan, a native of Sulu, a known lair of the Abu Sayyaf, believes the President's move is unprecedented but pointed out it will not "erase the criminal liabilities" of the Abu Sayyaf, nor "change the government's policy (against) negotiating with terrorists."

The President, pitching for public support for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Sulu on Monday, had consistently pushed for its inclusivity.

Aside from the Moro rebel groups, the President also wants to bring lawless elements like the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Figthers (BIFF) to the government's "peace table."

He also expressed openness to working with the ASG.

"Wala akong galit sa inyo. Wala akong galit sa Abu Sayyaf. I understand the situation...If there's a way that I can help you help me make it through the night sa presidency ko, magpasalamat talga ako kasi wala ako ibang hangarin kundi bigyan ng kapayapaan ang Moro sa Mindanao," Duterte said.

[Translation: I'm not mad at you. I'm not mad at the Abu Sayyaf. I understand the situation...If there's a way that I can help you help me make it through the night in my presidency, I would be really thankful because I want nothing but peace for the Moro in Mindanao.]

The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) implementing peace panels marked on Tuesday the fourth year since the historic signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Peace advocates said there is reason to hope and celebrate, even if the BBL's future in congress remains unclear.

"We're still lucky that the MILF and the govt are holding on to that ceasefire. But we realize really, that there are other threats in mindanao, especially with what happened in Marawi," Karen Tañada of the Third Party Monitoring Team said.

The MILF assured it will stick it out with the peace agreement. It hopes the government will keep its end of the bargain.