Philippines expands rehabilitation program to former violent extremists

Philippines expands rehabilitation program to former violent extremists

Tom Abke

The Philippine government has expanded its successful program to rehabilitate communist insurgents to include former violent extremists. The government, however, is assisting only those who voluntarily put aside their weapons.

The expanded program, known as the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), is working with local authorities to deradicalize former violent extremists (FVEs), who belonged to such outlawed militant organizations as the Abu Sayyaf Group, and help them integrate into mainstream, law-abiding society. (Pictured: Former insurgent combatants surrendered a cache of weapons to Philippine authorities through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program in 2020.)

“Through the E-CLIP, former rebels and former violent extremists are given an opportunity to start a new life,” retired Armed Forces of the Philippines Brig. Gen. Reynaldo B. Mapagu, department of national defense undersecretary for civil, veterans and reserve affairs and chairman of Task Force Balik Loob, which oversees E-CLIP, told FORUM. “The assistance given under the program is the government’s way of helping them live a peaceful and productive life with their families.”

Established by outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration in 2018, E-CLIP initially served to rehabilitate and reintegrate so-called former rebels, or FRs, who had fought with communist insurgency groups in the country, explained Mapagu. Then in 2020, Duterte added FVEs belonging to the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Dawlah Islamiya, Maute Group, and other local extremist organizations to the list of potential E-CLIP beneficiaries.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in the implementation of E-CLIP for FVEs, Mapagu said. However, efforts are now underway to reinvigorate it. The Philippines Department of Interior and Local Government is leading capacity-building activities to equip local governments in their adoption of E-CLIP for the reintegration of FVEs in their areas.

A pair of local initiatives for the reintegration of FVEs have begun in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the Southern Philippines, he said. The BARMM is home to Marawi, a city that was the site of a five-month battle in 2017 between Armed Forces of the Philippines Soldiers and a bloc of violent extremists led by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

According to Mapagu, E-CLIP’s efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate over 14,000 communist insurgents continue to be successful. Those who surrender receive security guarantees, housing assistance, welfare programs, financial assistance, cash for their firearms, legal assistance, scholarships and vocational training. A somewhat different approach, however, is required when dealing with FVEs, he explained.

“The radicalization of former rebels has ideological and political roots, while that of former violent extremists has religious undertones,” he explained. “Another factor that can be considered is the difference between cultural practices or beliefs of these individuals.”

Adapting the curriculum for unique audiences is the most challenging aspect of deradicalization, he said. E-CLIP is grateful to the Philippine Army for developing a broad deradicalization program for E-CLIP grantees that may be tailored to individual situations, Mapagu said.

The success of E-CLIP is evidenced by how the livelihoods of its beneficiaries have improved and by their resolve to completely abandon terrorism, Mapagu said. In addition to rejoining their families and starting new careers, many have joined government efforts to recruit other former rebels to participate in E-CLIP.

In dealing with FVEs, E-CLIP offers rehabilitation and reintegration opportunities only to those “who have voluntarily surfaced and renounced their violent ways,” he said. Violent extremists who were apprehended by law enforcement participate in other rehabilitation programs, such as one in the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

IMAGE CREDIT: TASK FORCE BALIK LOOB

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.

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