Farhana Maute’s two sons, Omarkhayam and Abudallah, are the leaders of the Maute group. The group is tied to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Mrs. Maute had been funding the group’s activities when they took over the Philippine city.
Marawi is a mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people in the southern part of the Philippines. A state of martial law was declared by President Rodrigo Duterte just after the beginning of the siege.
The Philippine government maintains that the violent conflict with the militant group began after they received intelligence that the Maute brothers were in the area. Instead, they spotted Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of another group affiliated with the ISIL and the Maute group and chaos ensued.
It is questionable whether or not Mrs. Maute’s two sons are still alive but she is keeping their mission, to raise the ISIL flag at the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol, alive with the help of child soldiers.
This information along with information that supports that the Maute matriarch, a wealthy business woman from the respected Romato clan, has, in fact, been funding the operation that has terrorized Marawi for the past month came from a former teenage soldier.
Video evidence supporting his claim was obtained by the Philippines online news site The Rappler. The video showed children “studying martial arts alongside masked men.”
There have been other eye witness accounts, from survivors who had escaped Marawi, of children in the streets armed with rifles.
The teenager who spoke with The Rappler remains anonymous. However, his story goes a little something like this, according to both The Rappler and United Kingdom’s The Daily Telegraph:.
He came from a poor family and was supposedly being given a golden opportunity. He was being given the opportunity by the Mautes to go to their headquarters in Butig, just 30 miles outside of Marawi, to study the Koran.
His parents believed what they were told and the teenager was sent to Butig. However, instead of studying the Koran he says he was handed a rifle and taught that government officials were the enemy, according to an article from The Rappler.
“They taught me how to kill people. If I don’t kill, I will die. They will kill me first.”
In his mind, he says, he was prepared to die. It was now a kill or be killed world for the boy. He was told that the greatest reward was to go to heaven and that fulfilling his duties and/or being killed would eventually lead to that reward.
The boy said he was taught to believe that it was all he ever wanted. He even described his life in Butig, Farahana Maute’s hometown, as a happy one. He could mingle with the other children, including the now infamous Omarkhayam and Abudallah Maute.
The details of the boy’s eventual departure from Butig are still being withheld for his safety and that of his family.
It’s not just teenage boys that they are brainwashing to be loyal to the Islamic State or ISIS, they are also lying to the parents of younger boys and even girls to add to their army.
Zia Alonto Aldiong, an eye witness from Marawi, told The Daily Telegraph about what he had seen before fleeing the city.
“During the early days of the war you’d see 9-to-11-year-olds manning checkpoints, holding heavy duty firearms. We are not only talking boys but several girls. They are running errands, following orders from their commanders.”
Aldiong, along with other witnesses, assumes that many of these children have already been killed during the military airstrikes that have hit Marawi over the past month.
Over a week ago, Mrs. Maute was caught riding in a vehicle of weapons and is currently facing charges of rebellion. Still, despite the unknown status of her sons and with her in custody, the war in Marawi rages on.
There was an eight-hour ceasefire Sunday so residents and militants alike could celebrate the end of Ramadan. The ceasefire came to an abrupt end as fire broke out as soon as the 2 p.m. deadline hit.
As the war in the Philippines begins to move into its second month we now know, that not unlike the wars in the 1990’s in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis, the members of these militant groups attached to ISIS and ISIL are not above using and brainwashing children to do their dirty work for them.
Hopefully, this war will not end as brutally as the one in Africa in the 90s. It ended in the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and many moderate Hutus.
So far, it seems that one can only hope that both the adults and children in the city of Marawi and the Philippines don’t end up either joining the militants or end up slaughtered.
It’s yet another case of history beginning to repeat itself and humanity having not yet learned its lesson.
Hundreds of child soldiers have been released by the Philippines’ main separatist rebel group, continuing its commitment to end the recruitment and use of children within its ranks.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), one of the most powerful armed groups in the country, released the children on Friday as part of an action planwith the UN.
Reporting from the disengagement ceremony in Lanao del Sur, Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan said Friday’s release did not happen overnight.
“This is something that started eight years ago,” she said. “It required a lot of ground work, a lot of investigations, a lot of re-education, not just of leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but also of parents who have had their children exposed to combat.”
In 2009, the group signed an action plan with the UN to end the recruitment of child soldiers, a practice that extends over generations.
The first in a series of disengagement ceremonies took place in February and the group will eventually disengage more than 1,800 children, according to UNICEF.
Some of the children fought on the front line with the group, but the majority performed tasks as couriers and support staff.
Richard Heydarian, a professor of political science in Manila, told Al Jazeera it is important to remember that many of these child soldiers were born into the conflict.
“We have to keep in mind that this is not like South Sudan or Sierra Leone … where you have these children ripped apart from their family and forcibly coerced to become child soldiers,” he said.
“Many of these children are actually very much part of the fabric of the community that has been supporting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”
The Islamic group, based on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, has fought for succession for decades, routinely recruiting and using children within its ranks, according to UNICEF.
Al Jazeera’s Alindogan said Friday’s ceremony shows the sincerity of the MILF in making sure the “third and fourth generation of children are not going to end up with the same fate as their parents and grandparents”.
The children who are released will be offered scholarships to finish school, as well as support from the government and NGOs for full integration back into society.
“The release of children from the MILF is only the beginning of the next phase of their youth. The next step is to ensure that these children receive support,” UNICEF’s country representative Lotta Sylwander said last month.
Example for other armed groups
The number of child soldiers in the Philippines remains unknown. Mindanao is home to a number of armed groups who use and recruit combatants under the age of 18, according to the UN.
As a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines has vowed to end the practice, but progress has remained slow.
Al Jazeera’s Alindogan said the commitment by the MILF serves an an example to the other groups.
“This process of disengagement of children is seen also as a very good example of other armed groups in the Philippines who are also recruiting and training children or including children in their combat activities,” she said.
Symbolic step for peace
Heydarian told Al Jazeera that the disengagement of the child soldiers is a “symbolic” move by the MILF, but the government remains too involved in other crises.
“It shows the MILF wants to be part of mainstream Philippines”, Heydarian said.
“The problem right now is that ironically you have a Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte having its first president from Mindanao, but the president right now is really bogged down by the controversial drug war, by ongoing peace negotiations … with the Communists, and also the threat of ISIS”, Heydarian said using an alternative abbreviation for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.