‘Part of normalization’: Army brigade leaves Camp Abubakar

BARIRA, Maguindanao (MindaNews/01 July) – An Army brigade has been pulled out of Camp Abubakar, a former major camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in this town, a move that military officials said was part of the normalization process.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division commander, said the 603rd Infantry Brigade under Col. Ariel dela Vega, has transferred its camp to Barangay Pigcalagan, Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao, around 10 kilometers away from the MILF’s Camp Darapanan.

The 15,000-hectare Camp Abubakar fell into government hands following former President Estrada’s “all-out war” in 2000, a conflict that displaced over a million civilians in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato.

But Pangilinan clarified the Army was not abandoning the area but just realigning its troops.

“We are not returning the camp to the MILF.  In fact we applied for the declaration of the area as military reservation,” the Army official told reporters, adding the complex will be the storage site of decommissioned MILF firearms under the custody of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) led by Turkey.

Pangilinan, assisted by Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), folded the 603rd Infantry Brigade banner and opened the flag of the 37th Infantry Battalion which replaced the brigade.

Hataman and Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema recalled the hardships and loss of lives and properties of Moro residents during the war.

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. and Rashid Ladiasan, GPH and MILF ceasefire committee chairpersons, respectively, witnessed the pullout of the brigade.

Pangilinan said over 3,000 hectares will become the resettlement site of decommissioned MILF fighters and their families.

Last month, the MILF decommissioned 145 fighters and 75 high-powered and 20 crew-served weapons in the presence of President Aquino and the IDB.

The initial decommissioning took place amid uncertainties on the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.

The BBL will replace the ARMM after its ratification through a plebiscite.

But some senators viewed the proposed measure as unconstitutional. Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said they would file substitute bills.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives adjourned their session last month without putting the BBL to a vote.

The MILF has declared it would not accept a BBL that is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)