Demilitarizing Bangsamoro: proposals include transitional int’l peacekeeping force

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 October) –   Demilitarizing the Bangsamoro of state and non-state forces as envisioned in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) which the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forged Saturday night is, concededly a “very tough issue,” according to GPH panel member Senen Bacani but it is one issue that has also sparked interesting debates and proposals, including an international peacekeeping force during the transition period.

The parties have agreed that “normalization,” the term preferred by the MILF over the usual DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) in post-conflict situations, will allow the war-weary communities to “return to conditions where they can achieve their desired quality of life, which includes the pursuit of sustainable livelihoods and political participation within a peaceful, deliberative society.”

The aim of “normalization,” according to Section 2 of Paragraph 8 of the FAB is to “ensure human security in the Bangsamoro” as it helps build a society “that is committed to basic human rights, where individuals are free from fear of violence or crime and where long-held traditions and value continue to be honored.”

Examples of human insecurity were immediately raised in the forum on the FAB at the Garden Pavilion of the Apo View Hotel Thursday morning by Mariam Mastura, a city prosecutor and daughter of MILF peace panel member Michael Mastura.

Addressing an Army colonel, Mastursa said the provision that says “in a phased and gradual manner, all law enforcement functions shall be transferred from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the police force for the Bangsamoro” simply means “titigilan nyo na po yung pag-gawa gawa nyo ng (you will stop making) affidavits of complaint against MILF commanders who are not doing anything except being members of the MILF.”

In mixed Pilipino and English, she continued: “You will stop filing those John Doe complaints filed with the Fiscal’s Office and later filed in court for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, you will stop arresting, picking up and killing the Moro. That’s what this means,” Mastura said in reaction to an earlier statement by Col. Boogie de Leon, operations chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command about the AFP and law enforcement.

To Brig. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, 10th Infantry Division commander, Mastura asked: “what will happen to the Moro the military arrested, picked up and brought to the ISAFP [Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines] and tortured? And what will happen to those who were charged and detained until now? What will happen to the Moro? What will you do?”

To Bacani, a relative, Mastura said, “Tito Senen, please help. They’ve done so many similar violations like these since martial law era. I am concerned about those who are detained until now when they have done nothing except being members of the MILF. They were just in their houses and they were arrested. That’s all.”

Done simultaneously  

Bacani replied that the issues she raised have been discussed and are being discussed by the panels. “May proseso na sinusunod. Sa wakas, maayos din yan. We are aware of those, pinaguusapan yan, may solusyon lahat yan” (There is a process being followed. That will be fixed soon. We are aware of those, these have been discussed, there is a solution to that). Bacani, however, did not disclose what the solution is.

Bernardo, who chaired the GPH peace panel’s Ceasefire Committee before assuming the post of division commander,  told Mastura that the issues she raised had been raised to the peace panels even while he was still ceasefire committee chair and these issues are being addressed.

Bacani said that on the question of reduction of arms on the part of both parties, the control of firearms, disbandment of private armies and private groups – these have to be done simultaneously because the issue would be “why will one group put their forces beyond use while other groups still have their own?”

“This is tough both for the military and police and everybody else. Even timetables here will have to be decided upon. This needs to be done simultaneously because I won’t give up my arms if my neighbor still has his,” he said, adding “this will need a lot of work and political will” especially because “we know it is not peculiar to the area that there are many loose firearms.”

“Very tough”

“This is tough but hopefully there is a solution here. I don’t’ think it will be overnight. It may take longer. But I think there is a need for a time frame and some significant events triggering specific things.  Many of these will require confidence-building. This is important. Why do people have firearms in the first place?  Much of this is due to the justice issue. If you can really get justice in a normal way.  .. although there are some peculiarities like rido.. we have to work on all those fine details. This will be a very tough issue,” Bacani added.

On Sunday, when President Aquino addressed the nation on the FAB,  Brig. Gen. Leo Cresente Ferrer, Senior Military Adviser to the GPH peace panel said the AFP “looks forward to its membership in the Technical Working Group that will craft the Normalization Plan.”

He said he sees “an evolution of the future mission of the AFP units” in the Bangsamoro. “We anticipate that in the absence of or minimal presence of threats to internal security, the AFP can shift its effort to territorial defense, as mandated, to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory. The military can fulfill its support role in the maintenance of a peaceful environment conducive to development and the delivery of basic services in the conflict areas,”  Ferrer said.

End of secession

De Leon had earlier pointed out in the forum what he said were “laudable provisions” of the agreement, particularly that “the state in the Bangsamoro has been removed which is a clear manifestation that there is no more secession in our country after the Framework Agreement has been signed.”

Coming from the security sector, he said, “we are always refering to MILF as the Southern Philippines Secessionist Group so the agreement, if signed, effectively, tanggal na yung, wala nang history of secession. The history of secession in our country will be put to a stop.”

He pointed to Paragraph 8, Section 5 on “Normalization” as “very laudable” because this was one of the most contentious issues. The Paragraph states that the MILF “shall undertake a graduated program for decommissioning of its forces so that they are put beyond use.”

“If the agreement will be signed on October 15, effectively the MILF has agreed that they would be decommissioning their forces and there will only be one Armed Forces in the Philippines so this is for us a very welcome development. Either they will be integrated to us or utilized for other law enforcement functions, is also welcome to us.”

Earlier, he said he wondered what the panels meant by Section 6 on the transfer of law enforcement functions to the police when the primary mandate of the AFP is not law enforcement.  He expressed fears the section will be interpreted to mean the AFP is taking over law enforcement functions during the transition period.

Bacani explained that because of the failure of the police in the area, the military has been doing law enforcement functions there. “I know police function is not the function of the military but de facto this is happening that’s why the section (on gradual phasing) because of  the failure of police, for one reason or the other. That’s why gradually, the military will go back to its core mandate,” he said.

Joint Normalization Commission

Bernardo, who was Assistant Division Commander in the 6th ID while serving as ceasefire committee chair in the peace panel, reminded the public that the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and the city of Cotabato are still under a state of emergency following the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media.

“The AFP is still there as a lead in the implementation of law enforcement order and forces being engaged there are really doing law enforcement functions,” he said.

But Bernardo said he welcomes Section 7 which provides for the creation of the Joint Normalization Committee  with the existing coordinating mechanisms – the Joint Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities (JCCCH), the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) and the International Monitoring Team (IMT) which, under the same agreement “shall continue to monitor the ceasefire agreement until the full decommissioning of the MILF forces.”

The MILF, the section also provides, “shall assist in maintaining peace and order in the area of the Bangsamoro until decommissioning shall have been fully completed.”

Bernardo quoted GPH panel chair Marvic Leonen as saying the law enforcement duties should be turned over to a “reformed police.”

International Police Peacekeeping Force

After the forum, De Leon told MindaNews and some NGO leaders that in his personal assessment, it may be best to “recommend for a multinational police force” during the transition period.

De Leon cited another provision in the agreement, Section 3 which provides as a matter of principle that the police service is civilian in character and “professional and free from partisan political control.”

He said those who will train the Bangsamoro police should be non-partisan and professionals as well, so “why not organize an international peacekeeping force” that he adds may be similar to the United Nations but in this case, can be through the existing IMT structure because “we’ve seen the neutrality of the IMT” and the IMT member-countries are already familiar with the situation on the ground.

“Normalization” was the last contentious issue the panels resolved Saturday night. The MILF had earlier pushed for a separate police force to which the GPH disagreed. The compromise was to set up an independent commission “to recommend appropriate policing within the area.” The commission’s members would be representatives from the parties and they “may invite local and international experts on law enforcement to assist the commission in its work.”

De Leon said the IMT is there in the area as a monitoring team. He said it may be possible for the IMT to be proactive during the transition period, by sending police officers instead of soldiers, or in addition to development and rehabilitation experts, police officers.

The IMT is composed of Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, which deployed soldiers and Japan, European Union and Norway which sent experts on development, humanitarian and  rehabilitation aspects.

Member-states in the International Contact Group – United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey — may also be tapped to assist, he said.

“We may not deal with specifics yet but more on the general concept of having a multinational force in order to emphasize ‘neutrality.’ It’s not a question of competence, but just to emphasize neutrality, free from political partisanship. It has to be both professional and non-partisan, two elements specified in the Framework Agreement,” de Leon said.

He explained that the suggestion for a multinational peacekeeping force is not to belittle the competence and professionalism of the Philippine National Police “but to brush aside perceptions of bias and instead strengthen government’s position that it is sincere in keeping its commitment of being fair.”

But he also added that another option could be for the AFP and PNP to “pool together their officers and men who have served and observed UN peacekeeping missions abroad, as the transition force. If they have served as peacekeepers abroad and earned the accolade as excellent peacekeepers, then they could also be peacekeepers in their own land, right?”

AFP evolution

But how will the AFP’s role evolve in the Bangsamoro? “Our assumption is wala nang combatant. The state (in Bangsamoro) has been removed. Wala nang secession,” he added.

“How do we transition? The way we look at it, we are optimistic about it,” de Leon said, adding the autonomous government, the MILF “will go after the spoilers because they are governing and they know who they are, they know better than us.”

Later, he said, the troops assigned in Maguindanao and Lanao for instance,  “can be used elsewhere.”

“Dalahin natin sa Luzon, karamihan naman nun, taga Luzon” (let’s return them to Luzon since most of them are from Luzon), he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)