MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 April) – Of the four Annexes to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Annex on Normalization is one that bears watching. The Annex comprises provisions under 11 major headings: Policing, Transitional Components, Decommissioning, Redeployment of the AFP, UXOs (unexploded ordnances) and Landmines, Disbanding of Private Armed Groups, Socio-Economic Development, Transitional Justice and Reconciliation, Resource Mobilization, Confidence-Building Measures, and Schedule.
As can be gleaned from these provisions and the Prefatory Statement itself, the Annex seeks to achieve improved quality of life, participative governance, and an atmosphere free of fear and violence. Logically – and as both parties know – this requires an earnest effort at disarmament directed not only at MILF fighters but also political warlords and other non-state actors. Exempting one group is out of the question.
However, this is easier said than done given current realities that could impede compliance within the desired timeframe. On the part of the MILF, for instance, there looms the possibility that both its leadership and rank and file may be having second thoughts about yielding their firearms. At most, they would only surrender a limited number of firearms and keep the rest in case the whole post-signing phase does not develop according to their expectations.
Call it guarded optimism, but this is an understandable attitude in a situation where they are yet to reap concrete social, economic and political benefits from the implementation of the agreement as expressed in the emerging Bangsamoro Basic Law. President Aquino III’s term ends on 30 June 2016 during which time the BBL is expected to be in place already. After that, there is no telling how the successor government would treat the fruit of the 17-year negotiation. There is no assurance the perceived sincerity of the current administration in attaining lasting peace in Mindanao even if, in theory, the signed agreement binds the State as a whole.
Besides, it’s not only the post-Aquino period the MILF may be wary about. The revolutionary group, as the Annex on Normalization itself implies, is not the only non-State armed actor in the region. Count in the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, kidnappers, extortionists, other criminal groups, and politicians who maintain private armies, or at least keep arms either for protection or to intimidate rivals and voters. Given this array of armed protagonists who have taken a foothold in many parts of the region, the MILF and their supporters would feel helpless hence a tendency to hold back when it comes to decommissioning. This will show in the impending inventory of weapons.
The logical approach seems to be neutralizing the criminal groups and political warlords ahead of, if not simultaneous with, decommissioning the MILF. However, aside from problems in law enforcement in the region the government faces another obstacle which is more cultural than technical. According to the AFP, there have had been incidents where MILF members who have relatives in groups like the Abu Sayyaf in the island provinces fought side by side with the bandits during military operations. Disturbed by such reports, GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer last week appealed to the MILF leadership to make these members “choose between war and peace.”
Such reports are not new. There were similar complaints in the past coming from the military. Except to say in some instances that those wayward elements belong to “Lost Commands,” the MILF leadership is yet to take drastic moves against them. That it has not gone to the extent of meting punitive actions against its members suspected of either coddling or fighting with criminal groups is understandable. But now that it has made peace with government the MILF would do well by disciplining its errant followers.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)