BUTIG, Lanao del Sur — This is where everything started.
The Maute brothers, the main perpetrators of the Marawi siege, were natives of this remote agricultural municipality. These are the very same grounds where the ISIS flag was first hoisted and the scene of the initial gun battles between the terror group and government troops.
Three years after the siege, a sense of normalcy now prevails over this laidback town, a three-hour drive from Marawi. Its public market is now teeming with people, while residents walk in a seemingly leisurely pace, something that was unimaginable at the height of the armed conflict.
Assistant Secretary Felix Castro Jr., Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) field office assistant manager, remembered the days when he crossed the fields of this town as a military officer without any fear of being harmed.
“I’ve eaten in a lot of houses here. I’ve gone to the mountains here. The people of Butig are kind,” shared Castro whose tour of duty in the municipality lasted for almost three years. It was during this time when he befriended the people and developed a strong bond with them.
Deradicalization program for returnees
According to him, it was this sense of belonging that brought him back to Butig. He was joined by representatives of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), the AFP’s 49th and 9th Infantry Battalions, and the Lanao del Sur provincial government.
Castro and his team visited the municipality to take part in the Deradicalization and Aftercare Program spearheaded by the 103rd Brigade. The program aims to help Maute-ISIS returnees to successfully reintegrate into mainstream society and live peaceful and productive lives.
“When we talk about preventing violent extremism, we should focus here. This is where it all began,” he said, while highlighting the various issues that still need to be addressed in the community that is still recovering from the effects of the siege.
“Admittedly the government and NGOs are focused on Marawi. I am making an effort to bring them here. Rest assured that we have not forgotten Butig,” Castro said, who is now working closely with the provincial and municipal governments to identify much-needed interventions.
In fact, he has already received several proposals coming from the Butig LGU that aims to create livelihood opportunities for residents. So far, three of these proposals have been approved. Two of them are on abaca farming, while the other one is on coffee production.
“Why are we here? Because the needs of the people are here. If we develop Butig as a whole, everyone will benefit. The surrounding municipalities will also improve. We, everyone, should help each other,” Castro said.
“We need your cooperation. The government will not be able to do its job if you will not cooperate. What we are talking about here is the lives of our children. We need your help for Butig to rise up,” he said. (opapp)