COMMUNITY DEFENDERS. The first batch of reservists completes basic military training of the Army's 11th Infantry Division (ID) in Jolo, Sulu on Jan. 23, 2021 and forms part of the first-ever Sulu Ready Reserve Battalion to fortify the community defense against the Abu Sayyaf Group bandits in Sulu. The 11ID also completed the training of another batch of reservists in December 2021 and one batch of militiamen in March 2021. (Photo courtesy of the 11ID Public Affairs Unit)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The year 2021 caught sight of the Philippine Army, through the three-year-old 11th Infantry Division (ID), strengthening the community defense against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in the province of Sulu.

The community defense build-up started with the activation of the first-ever Sulu Ready Reserve Battalion (SRRB) in January this year.

Initially, the members of the SRRB comprised 195 Tausugs, who have graduated on January 23 from a 45-day Basic Citizen Military Training (BCMT) conducted by the Philippine Army Reserve Command.

The graduates, which comprised the BCMT Class 01-20, came from different areas of Patikul, Sulu.

The BCMT is an entry-level training course undertaken by Filipino citizens, who intend to enlist in the reserve force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, 11ID commander, said the activation of the SRRB was based on guidance from Department of National Defense (DND) Sec. Delfin Lorenzana who wanted to bolster security in the province.

“The residents of Patikul are very lucky to be the first reservist batch in Sulu,” said Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who is a reservist with a rank of major.

The duties and responsibilities of the reservists are to assist in disaster relief and rescue operations, socio-economic development, and operations of critical utilities of affiliated reserve units; and as a base expansion of regular force in the event of war, rebellion, or natural emergencies.

In March, the 11ID recruited and trained some 110 Tausug natives to join the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) to serve as part of the community defense forces.

Gonzales said that those recruited were natural-born Filipinos in Sulu, 18 to 48 years old, with no pending case and physically fit to perform duty.

Lt. Col. Jooney Jay Businos, 2nd Special Forces Battalion commander, who headed the recruitment, said the 110 CAFGU recruits have undergone screening to include neuropsychological and other medical tests.

They were trained at the headquarters of the 2nd Special Forces Battalion in Barangay Bilaan, Talipao, Sulu.

Gonzales said they recruited Tausugs to join the CAFGU since the Task Force for Ending Local Armed Conflict (TF-ELAC) is returning internally displaced people (IDP) to their hometowns.

The TF-ELAC is the Sulu’s version of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“Whenever we implement the Balik Barangay Program, local chiefs request the establishment of patrol bases to prevent members of the ASG from retaliating against civilians who support the government forces in eradicating terrorism,” Gonzales said.

The CAFGU was created in 1987 through Executive Order No. 264 to complement the operations of regular military forces.

The latest addition to the SRRB is a group composed of 300 Tausug tribe members who completed on December 16 their 45-day BCMT conducted by the 906th Community Defense Center of the Army Reserve Command.

They belong to the BCMT Class 02-2021 that included the youth sector, militiamen, and other individuals coming from various fields such as education, engineering, and local governance.

“Although this batch is composed of reserve privates, its diverse demographic will add value to what the ready reserve battalion can do to advance our campaign for peace here in the province,” Gonzales said.

“Our youth will be less vulnerable to the recruitment of terror groups. Instead, they will be ambassadors of peace,” he added.

One of the graduates is 31-year-old Sharryhama Serajani, who holds a nursing degree and works at the Jolo municipal government.

Serajani recalled that during her childhood days, she did not understand the works of a soldier.

“(However), after I completed the training, I understood the purpose why there are soldiers assigned in our place,” Serajani said citing she like to be part of the changes and development in Sulu as a reservist.

Gonzales said the reservists will become part of the Army's future structure, a regular force supported by a strong reservist force.

The reservists have a crucial role in stabilizing Sulu's socio-economic situation aside from providing additional manpower to the Philippine Army in dealing with external and territorial threats, according to Gonzales.

“They can help in strengthening education, employment, order, and safety,” he added.

He said the SRRB is now composed of 495 talented individuals that included 195 Tausugs who graduated on January 23 and the 300 individuals, also Tausugs, who completed training on December 16.

Lt. Col. Andres Soriano, director of the 906th Community Defense Center, said they are planning to train around 600 individuals to complete the SRRB force.

President Rodrigo Duterte, accompanied by Lorenzana, led the activation of the 11ID on December 17, 2018 at Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista, the headquarters of Joint Task Force (JTF) - Sulu in Barangay Bus-Bus, Jolo, Sulu.

Composed of units actively working under JTF-Sulu, the various corps were formed into the new 11ID dedicated to fighting the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria - affiliated terrorist groups in the province. (PNA)