TERRORISM, PRISONS and DERADICALIZATION
“Sir, I already have a family here…I have two beautiful kids and they are already in grade school. I don’t even have any intention of leaving them. If at all I am released, I intend to stay and lead a quiet life here in your beautiful country.” This was disclosed haltingly but fluently in the vernacular by someone who was alleged as a militant explosive expert and was for a time recorded as “high risk” in the confidential notes of international intelligence agencies. The fellow was deemed as a terrorist in a ghostly sense.
Ade Agusalim (not the real name) was a long-time resident of Sulawesi, Selatan, Indonesia. He was born on August 11, 1964 and completed college education as engineer. After graduation, he dabbled in commerce and became a businessman. He came to the Philippines, via the back door. He knew that Mindanao was a predominant Muslim province and his presence would only be ignored.
Sometime in 2000, a bandit group achieved notoriety with a series of criminal kidnapping and related offensive manoeuvres in Mindanao. They even extended terror tactics in populated urban areas like Metro Manila already. As the military tagged the movement of the group, a fire in a cased area yielded materials which became basis for identifying personalities in the fold. The name of Agusalim was listed.
The military along with International law enforcement agencies immediately took the task of determining those at the confiscated materials (computer files) and through tie up with police agencies conducted a manhunt until several persons were haled. While the intel and classified files indicated the guilt of certain personalities, it could not be used as evidence in court. Nonetheless, charges were filed and violation of decrees was applied to get the necessary convictions.
It was disclosed that Ade Agusalim is a member of a militant Islamic group linked to the Al-Qaida terror network along other suspects including a Jeemah Islamiah operative Al Ghozi who was believed to be behind the deadly execution of various terror bombings in Metro Manila.
The crime for which the accused was charged, while it connected with terrorism, merely glossed over a well-planned terror activity with so much space and lapses. Hence, the crime charge for mass murder as in Rizal bombing incident may be shallow and dismissible. The prosecution stuck to the crime of Violation of PD 1866, a law penalizing acts that constitute illegal and unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives or instruments used in the manufacture of firearms, ammunition or explosives.
On November 19, 2002, the court handed down a decision finding his guilt for Violation of PD 1866 and issued a sentence of 10 years minimum up to 17 years maximum. On August 23, 2003, he was brought to the National Penitentiary to serve time.
“As soon as I came through the Reception and Diagnostic Center, I was transferred to the maximum security camp where I was assigned to a building controlled by gangs. After a few months, I became a member of the “Batang City Jail” or BCJ. I would serve time and spend the rest of my penalty, learning the norms, the conduct and even the principles of BCJ. Gone were the Islamic ideology days for me. What was important to me at that time was to be a part of the crowd, to survive along with my fellow inmates and behave as if I was born in the same area as theirs.”
Agusalim’s prison life was never boring at all for him. He easily blended with the locals. In two years’ time, he was already communicating with them fluently in their language. His Malay racial complexion could easily pass on as Filipino already. His height (5’3”) of smaller built is, not enough menacing in a community where bullies are instant leaders. He never posed as a threat in any gathering, be it organizational or social. He would proceed where most would go. He never even allowed his personal beliefs to intervene in any group work or undertaking. He was a team mate for all.
He never even joined those convicted for terrorism like the Abu Sayaf group. And while he was given a cell assignment in the area, he would rather spend time in the prison hospital assisting patients and during off hours, maintaining a small kiosk adjacent to the sanatoriums. A few months after, his business acumen would yield considerable results. The small store grew into a grocery accredited by the institution commissary. He would be a regular guy among Muslim inmates catering to their basic needs.
The boring prison condition however would be broken when visiting time comes. Guests, scholars, volunteers, mostly women would converge to offer assistance to the prison community. In one occasion, he would be introduced to a relative of a volunteer, a lass from Ilo-ilo province. The initial acquaintance would blossom into a romance. The Indonesian, like his Filipino counterpart, in the prison community would yearn to disturb the pain of homogenous interaction and opt for marital bliss. In two years’ time, the Malay would contract marriage vow with his constant visitor. Years later, the relationship would bear two kids, all girls. To date, the kids are now in grade school.
Agusalim’s domestic sojourn is completed. He would rather stay in the country and treat his past as youthful adventure. His politics has been replaced with domestic concerns. His ideology has been buried and in turn overtaken by a skill he learned in prison on reflexology. Had it not for his friends in Indonesia, his co accused for that matter, who was successful in their political entry along with some comrades, he would rather try his luck in some remote corners of the town in the country practicing his new found vocation on para-medical services. He merely lost his political thirst as a consequence of his romantic interlude with family affairs.
A decade of prison life has indeed deradicalized his mind if not his emotions.