Some Marawi children look up to ISIS as heroes: PH sports official

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27) — While other children dream of becoming teachers and doctors, some young evacuees from war-torn Marawi want to be part of international terrorist network ISIS, officials said. 

"Pangarap po namin maging ISIS (Our dream is to become an ISIS member)," Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William Ramirez recalled what a group of boys told coaches during play time in an evacuation center in Iligan City, 40 kms north of Marawi City.

Ramirez said members of the PSC, together with five sports psychologists traveled to Iligan City this month, where thousands live in evacuation centers as fighting continues between government forces and ISIS-linked Maute group in Marawi.

"Nagbibigay sila ng pagkain, eh. 'Saka 'yung aming mga tatay binibigyan nila ng suweldo (They are giving us food. They give salaries to our fathers)," Ramirez recounted the kids as telling them. He was speaking at a press briefing in Malacanang.

He said the government should be alarmed that some Marawi children are feeling love from the terrorists, and neglect from the government.

Military officials have confirmed that terrorists such as the Abu Sayyaf would play "Robin Hood," giving poor residents a part of their loot to gain the community's support.

"Kayong mga department secretary dapat tulungan niyo kami kasi mabigat ang problema (Department secretaries should help us because the problem is big)… It's not about food, it's about how they are treated. Alam mo ang bata pa hindi mo mamahalain hindi ka nila mamahalin (You know when children are not loved, they won't love you back)," Ramirez said.

Since the country has withdrawn from hosting the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, the government can use up to ₱700 million in funding allocated to the games to help the children in need, Ramirez said.

"There is much demand from our brother Muslims, Cordillerans, Manobos who are neglected by our government," he said, referring to some of the indigenous peoples such as the Manobo in Mindanao, and the Ifugao in the northern Philippine region of the Cordillera. These non-Muslim ethnic groups are known as "Lumad."

The PSC plans to focus on children from Marawi, using sports as a tool to help promote unity among children of different religions and allow them to appreciate diversity, Ramirez said.

"Malay mo ma-inspire mo 'yung mga Maranao na mga bata instead na mahalin ang ISIS, mag-aral nang maayos, at maintindihan ang ating liberal arts instead of going to extremism," he added, referring to the Maranao, one of the main ethnic groups in Mindanao who are largely Muslim and reside in Marawi.

Translation: "Who knows, instead of loving the ISIS, the Maranao kids may be inspired to study hard instead of going to extremism."

Threat to Lumad schools

On Thursday, the National Youth Commission called on the Department of Education (DepEd) to "resolve their differences" and "forge an agreement" with Lumad schools to remove suspicion that the schools were used to foment rebellion against the government.

"We are optimistic that we can eliminate doubts or suspicions that some educational institutions are allegedly being used for the indoctrination of the school children to rebel against the government if the Lumad school leaders and the DepED officials will be able to reconcile and resolve their differences and disagreements," the NYC said in a statement.

During his State of the Nation Address on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to bomb community schools run by Lumad in the provinces, claiming they were teaching students to rebel against the government.

Child fighters

The involvement of children in the fighting at ground zero in Marawi has been cited by military who say the children were recruited by the Maute group, and are even being put in the enemy frontlines.

Most of them do not idolize the ISIS or its sympathizers, but were hostages of the terrorists holed up in Marawi, the military said.

Others were fooled into recruitment.

A 17-year-old former Maute member, who spoke to CNN Philippines this July, said he was recruited in the town of Piagapo in Lanao Del Sur in 2012 when he was 12 years old.

Also read: PH military exercising caution vs. Maute child soldiers in Marawi