PNoy to witness decommissioning of MILF firearms, combatants

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 June) – President Aquino will witness the first phase of the decommissioning processes in Maguindanao on Tuesday, June 16, with the ceremonial turnover of 55 high-powered and 20 crew-served weapons of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the decommissioning of 145 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing.

The firearms will be turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) at the old Capitol compound in Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao, about a kilometer from the main entrance of the MILF’s Camp Darapanan.

A press release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on June 11 said decommissioned combatants “will undergo a registration, verification, and validation process, after which they will be provided immediate cash assistance amounting to P25,000 and PhilHealth Cards.”

Gradual decommissioning is part of the Annex on Normalization signed by the MILF and the government in January 2014. It was the last to be signed among four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

“We are scheduled to begin the decommissioning process this June 16,” government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a joint press conference with MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal in Pasig City on June 11.

“The President himself will be the guest of honor during the event and we are inviting our esteemed lawmakers from the House of Representatives and the Senate to join us and witness the commitment of both Parties to put an end to the armed conflict,” Ferrer was quoted as saying.

It will be the second time President Aquino will visit Simuay in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao. The first was on February 11, 2013, at the launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a socio-economic peace initiative of government in partnership with the MILF.

Glad but “a long way to go”

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government told reporters in Davao City that he was “not invited” but was “glad we’re beginning the process.”

“It is still a very small step,” he said, noting that only a few firearms and a few combatants would be decommissioned from among an estimated 10,000.

“That is one of the issues that came up in our last hearing. That we have to do something to make the timetable on the decommissioning more stringent,” Marcos said, adding there were suggestions to “remove it from the Annex and .. put in the (Bangsamoro Basic Law) … and put very specific dates.”

In the House of Representatives, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat has also been asking why decommissioning and the other phases of normalization are not in the draft BBL.

Marcos said he is glad about this new development but “but we have a long way to go.”

“Maybe I will go when we decommission the last firearm,” he told a press conference Saturday afternoon.

The decommissioning on Tuesday comes even as Congress has yet to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the enabling law that would pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Ferrer said Tuesday’s event is “just the start of the decommissioning process, which the MILF has committed to undertake as a show of its sincerity to peace building” and that it “shows the continued commitment of the Parties to bring peace.”

“Harder nut to crack”

The Annex on Normalization took 14 months to negotiate. The technical working groups led by National Security Council Undersecretary Zenonida Brosas for the GPH and Mohammad Nasif of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces for the MILF, began their first meeting their meeting in November 2012, a month after the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

As early as that first meeting, Iqbal had said that of the three – wealth and power sharing and normalization – the latter was “the harder nut to crack” because “it is not only about disposition of troops, weapons, decommissioning and policing, but it is more importantly tied up with implementation of the Agreement on the ground, which in turn breeds trust. Trust is something that cannot happen instantly especially between former adversaries. You have to patiently build and nurture it.”

At the press conference after the signing of the Normalization annex on January 25, 2014, Iqbal said, normalization is “the most sensitive, emotional, and as far as I know, it entails a lot of sacrifices on the part of the MILF because to pay for peace, real peace in Mindanao, we have to decommission our forces and put them beyond use.”

Iqbal stressed that “there is no element of surrender” in the Annex. “There would be no destruction of firearms. It merely says that the combatants especially the firearms are put beyond use. How to define putting beyond use is still a subject of the assignment of the Independent Decommissioning Body,” he said.

“Despite the adverse status of the BBL in Congress, the MILF has agreed to proceed with the symboli dedcommissioning to comply with our obligation in the signed agreement,” Iqbal told MindaNews on Sunday morning.

The OPAPP press release quoted Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles as saying that the decommissioning process the MILF is set to undergo is “unprecedented,” as it was not done during the earlier peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“We’ve never had an armed organization that has been fighting with government as an organization voluntarily—in partnership with the government—turn over weapons,” Deles said.

The peace agreement between government and the MNLF involved integration of combatants into the government’s armed forces and the police.

4 phases

Gradual decommissioning is part of the Annex on Normalization signed by the MILF and the government last January 2014.

The Annex on Normalization lists four phases of normalization – with the decommissioning of MILF forces and redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippine done while political milestones are met.

The first phase involves the “signing of the Annex on Normalization up to the completion of the verification and validation conducted by the Independent Decommissioning Body.’ Tuesday’s event is part of Phase 1.

Phase 2 is “from the completion of validation of MILF forces up to the ratification of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)” which will then involve the decommissioning of 30% of MILF forces and weapons.

Phase 3 is “from the ratification of the BBL up to the establishment and operationalization of the police force for the Bangsamoro,” which will lead to the decommissiong of 35% of MILF forces and weapons.

Phase 4 is “from the operationalization of the police force for the Bangsamoro up to two months prior to the signing of the Exit Agreement, provided that the evaluaton of the panels with the participation of the Third Party Monitoring Team and Facilitator that all the commitments of the parties, except the remaining stage of decommissiong, has been completed.” This last phase involves the decommissioning of the remaining MILF forces and weapons. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

 

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