Muslim religious leaders in Mindanao believe they can “reform” surrendered members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
Alih Sakaluran Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines, said efforts were already underway to rehabilitate former members of the Islamic State-affiliated organisation.
“We will mainly help in the debriefing process and re-education,” he told Catholic news site ucanews.com.
He said they would focus on the “aspect of psychological” needs of those who surrendered, adding that the mechanisms that they would use needed to be “subtle”.
“Our approach is not terrorising the terrorists,” said Aiyub, one of the organisers of a Muslim summit in Cotabato City this week.
The meeting, organised by the Darul Ifta of the autonomous Muslim government of Mindanao, discussed the threat of terrorism in the region.
The religious leaders agreed that former terrorists — at least 50 have surrendered in recent months — can help to convince active fighters to give up.
“They can be very effective,” said Aiyub, adding that, “we have to win their hearts and minds.”
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, welcomed the initiative.
“It would be a great help if the Ulama can reorient and refocus the malign and distorted reasoning of the terror groups,” he said.
He also highlighted the “need to unite all our efforts to win the war against Islamic extremism and terrorism in our region.”
After the three-day meeting ended on Sunday, the clerics and scholars issued a declaration condemning terrorism, saying that it is “forbidden and unlawful to use Islam to justify or legitimise violent extremism and terrorism.”
They also admitted that it had become a challenge for Muslim religious leaders “to re-educate our constituents to rediscover our Islamic faith for justice, compassion, harmony, and peace.”
Aiyub admitted that a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism in the southern Philippines would be challenging. “We have to counter them ideologically. We cannot argue with them directly if they are armed,” he said.