On August 21, I was given an opportunity to take a look inside the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Eastern Mindanao Reformation Center in Camp Rajamuda, Pikit, North Cotabato. (This was published on Manila Bulletin print edition on 23 August 2018. )

The MILF's Reformatory Center inside the Camp Rajamuda in Pikit, North Cotabato. (Keith Bacongco)

The MILF’s Reformatory Center inside the Camp Rajamuda in Pikit, North Cotabato. (Keith Bacongco)

 

 

PIKIT, North Cotabato — Situated deep in the plains of this marshy town, heavily armed men are stationed around fortified structure underneath a coconut farm that serves as detention facility for erring villagers.

However, this is not a government-ran facility. Instead, it is administered by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The cell, which sits inside barb wire-fenced compound with area of littler over a quarter of a hectare, is called a Eastern Mindanao Reformation Center inside the sprawling MILF’s Camp Rajamuda.

MILF Eastern Mindanao Front Commander Jack Abbas told Manila Bulletin that the Reformation Center serves as detention facility not jus for criminals but as well as rehabilitation center of drug dependents.

MILF fighters with the three detainees inside the Reformatory Center.

But Abbas explained that the punishments for pushers are different than users. “Drug pushers are detained as criminals while users undergo rehabilitation.”

However, he clarified that most of the detained drug dependents were voluntarily surrendered by their parents.

“They undergo not just physical rehabilitation but as well as spiritual renewal,” he added saying that an Ustadz visits the facility every week to teach them Islamic values.

Every month, the MILF official added, a physician examines the health condition of the detainees.

Abbas, one of the veteran MILF commanders, added that the number of drug dependent detainees have already dropped following the government’s relentless war on drugs.

On August 21, the MILF gave Manila Bulletin an exclusive first look of the detention facility. During the visit, there were only three detainees sharing in one of the three cells, with an estimated size of about 16 square meters each.

Like common jails, the facility has also a dungeon. But unlike the common dungeons, in the Reformation Center it is bigger and quite ventilated.

Jail warden Mohammad Yusoph shows what's inside the MILF detention facility. (Keith Bacongco)

Jail warden Mohammad Yusoph shows what’s inside the MILF detention facility. (Keith Bacongco)

The facility has also a common kitchen and a restroom.

Right at the gate of the compound stands a mosque where the detainees are allowed to say their noontime prayer along with their guards and villagers.

Yusoph Mohammad, the MILF jail warden, told Manila Bulletin that many have already been released after they have completed the maximum four-month detention.

“But for high profile or criminal cases, they are transferred to another facility in Camp Darapanan. This Reformation Center mainly functions as rehabilitation or disciplinary actions to drug dependents,” Mohammad explained.

Camp Darapanan is the MILF’s main headquarters located at Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao.

MILF fighters stationed at the detention facility. (Keith Bacongco)

Mohammad added that the facility could accommodate up to 30 persons. However, at the height of MILF’s anti-drug campaign in 2015 to 2017, the detainees have cramped in the cells as they ballooned to 60.

It can be recalled that on 2015, the MILF has launched its own anti-drug campaign inside its controlled areas.

Less than a month after the assumption of President Rodrigo Duterte, the government’s Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (GPH-CCCH and AHJAG) and MILF’s Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities and Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (MILF CCCH and AHJAG) signed Agreement of Cooperation and Coordination in the Campaign against Illegal Drugs in MILF controlled areas on July 12, 2016 at Hotel Elena, Davao City.

Inside its controlled territory, the MILF has posted several tarpaulins renouncing shabu as it is ‘haram’ or prohibited.

Since they could not be accommodated inside the facility, he bared that some were allowed to sleep in the nearby madrasah and sentry huts. “They could not just slip away, the are a lot of heavily-armed guards around.”

Aside from lectures, the detainees also undergo hard labor, said the MILF jail warden. “Some are ordered to clean around the detention camp, fetch some water and even cook for the guards,” he disclosed.

One of the detainees, who asked for anonymity, told Manila Bulletin that his parents turned him in to the MILF due to excessive drug use.

He has been detained for over four months already. He admitted that he is comfortable in the Reformation Center because he has learned a lot on the teachings of Islam.

“Mas maganda dito dahil nakapagdasal pa ako at mas komportable dito dahil hindi masikip at mainit,” the 38-year old father of seven told Manila Bulletin.

Behind this wall is the detention facility. (Keith Bacongco)

Mohammad explained that some detainees’ term is extended because their parents have refused to take them back.

Established sometime in 2009, the facility was gradually built through contributions from the local community. “Even some of the food supplies for the guards and detainees sometimes come from the pockets of the parents and ordinary villagers,” a ranking MILF political officer told Manila Bulletin.

Aside from the perimeter fence of the compound, a seven-foot high concrete wall surrounds the facility with an estimated perimeter of about 200 meters.

Inside the wall, is the three-room detention facility , with a floor area of about 100 square meters, is fortified with about five-inch thick concrete and 16mm deformed bars constitute its doors and windows. Thus, the main facility itself has two layers of perimeter security.

“Now we only have three detainees left. This could mean a good news because it may be an indicator that many may have already stopped their bad deeds,” Mohammad concluded.