AFP to issue directive vs soldiers, militias occupying public facilities

MANILA (11 August) — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will issue a directive for soldiers and government militias not to occupy public facilities, like schools and barangay halls, as their headquarters.

This was the commitment of the AFP to Mindanao grassroots leaders who are in Manila for a week-long lobby mission dubbed “Conversations with Mindanao Grassroots.”

The commitment of the AFP was declared in a round-table discussion among 24 Mindanao leaders and 12 ranking officials of the AFP’s General Headquarters led by Maj. Gen. Victor A Felix, deputy chief of staff for Civil Military Operations.

The commitment came following complaints from the Mindanao delegation who reported some regular Army units and militias occupying public facilities.

In Maguindanao province, at the height of the war, many school buildings and even mosques were occupied by soldiers running against the so-called renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders.

The AFP will also look into reports of soldiers allegedly recruiting minors among the ranks of indigenous peoples. “We have an age limit for our recruitment so we will just verify this report and act appropriately.”

The Joint Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (JCCH), a ceasefire mechanism agreed by government and the MILF, will also soon have a full-time chair that the Chief of Staff will appoint. This was the AFP’s response to the Mindanao Peoples Caucus’ (MPC) complaint against the current JCCH chair who has not been active in running his office after he was assigned in a regular Army unit in Luzon.

The AFP also clarified that it did not actually recommend for the lifting of the State of Emergency that was declared in Maguindanao after the November 23 Ampatuan massacre. “We said that we have no problem if the State of Emergency is lifted, but we did not recommend also for its lifting,” said one of the Army officials who was at the meeting at the General Headquarters.

They said they were recently given by the Department of Justice a list of still to be arrested suspects in the Ampatuan massacre and that they have “already directed all our units down the line to effect the arrest for those who have existing warrants.”

At the round-table discussion, the two groups also agreed to recommend a total disarmament of civilians in Mindanao, though Bapa Joe Akmad, a senior leader of MPC, cautioned the Army in implementing total disarmament because of the “existence of revolutionary forces who must not be included as they are now negotiating peace with government.” (Romy Elusfa is a member of the “peace lobby” delegation).

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