Decommissioning of 12,000 MILF combatants starts Sept. 7

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 August) – The decommissioning of 12,000 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) armed wing will be from September 2019 to March 2020, with around 1,100 combatants and 900 weapons decommissioned on September 7 in ceremonies that will be attended by President Rodrigo Duterte, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez said.

Galvez told the conference on “Walking and Working Together for Healing and Reconciliation” at the Ateneo de Davao University last Wednesday that the 12,000 represents 30% of the 40,000 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) that will be decommissioned under Phase 2 of the four-phase process.

The September 7 decommissioning will be in the same venue where Phase 1 was held four years ago, at the gymnasium of the old provincial capitol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao,

Under Phase 1, 20 crew-served weapons and 55 high-powered firearms were turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) on June 16, 2015 and 145 BIAF members were also decommissioned that day in ceremonies witnessed by then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. 

Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity announced at the conference on “Walking and Working Together for Healing and Reconciliation” on 14 August 2019 at the Ateneo de Davao University that decommissionin of 12,000 combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will begin on September 7, 2019 in ceremonies to be attended by Preisdent Rodrigo Duterte. Photo courtesy of OPAPP

The Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement between government and the MILF signed in March 2014, provides under Phase 2 that 30% of the forces and weapons would be decommissioned when the Bangsamoro law is ratified.

The Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or Repbulic Act 11054 was ratified during a plebiscite on January 21 this year.

The Commission on Elections on January 25, 2019 proclaimed RA 11054 ratified by majority of the people in the proposed core territory of the new autonomous political entity touted to be the “last chance” for peace in the decades old struggle of the Bangsamoro people to establish a government of the Moro, by the Moro and for the Moro, inclusive of the non-Moro settlers and Indigenous Peoples as provided by the law.

Galvez told MindaNews on Thursday that the decommissioning of the 12,000, representing 30% of the 40,000 BIAF members, would be until March 2020.

He said there will be eight decommissioning sites “and we expect to finish (processing) our 12,000 combatants from September (2019) to March (2020).”

“Our benchmark is that we can decommission more or less 200 per day per site in series, not simultaneous,” he added.

On September 7, a total of 1,060 BIAF members and 920 firearms will be decommissioned. Also to be formally decommissioned are 225 BIAF members who are undergoing training as members of the Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST).

Galvez told the conference that the 225 will be “makakasama ng police, ng armed forces sa paghanap ng terrorists at the same time sila po security during decommissioning” (will join the police and armed forces in the search for terrorists and at the same time they will provide security during the decommissioning).

The trainees’ basic military training started August 1 and will end on August 26.

Already listed for decommissioning on September 7 are 1,060 BIAF members plus 225 already training under the JPST or 1,285, and 920 firearms.

Galvez told the conference that decommissioned combatants and their families “will be assisted in making the transition to becoming peaceful and productive civilians” and the rifles they have been carrying for years would be replaced by ploughshares, fishnets and other implements to earn sustainable incomes.

Reckoning 30%

On January 18 this year, after the Peace Assembly where President Rodrigo Duterte campaigned for a “yes” vote to ratify RA 11054, MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews they had “30,000 to 40,000” regular members of the BIAF that “will be subject for decommissioning.” He said they were “not necessarily all armed but all are under the official roster of the BIAF.”

Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants in a military formation at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao. MILF fighters will be decommissioned in line with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal between the government and the MILF signed in 2014. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Murad said the MILF-owned weapons were only 6,000 to 7,000 and they were reckoning the 30% to be decommissioned after the ratification from this number. Thirty per cent of “6,000 to 7,000” is 1,800 to 2,100 weapons.

Ebrahim explained their three categories: 6,000 to 7,000 weapons owned by the MILF itself; but there are other weapons owned by individual members and they were conducting a survey on it; and weapons of sympathizers.

Four phases

Phase 1 of the Normalization process is “from the signing of the Annex on Normalization up to the completion of the verification and validation conducted by the IDB.”

The Annex was signed on January 25, 2014.

Phase 1 included the ceremonial turn over of 20 crew-served weapons and 55 high-powered firearms in June 2015. Phase 1 also included starting the process of redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from former conflict areas and the submission of the report of the Independent Commission on Policing, among others.

DECOMMISSIONED. President Aquino with Ambassador Haydar Berk of Turkey, chair of the Independent Decommissioning Body, pass by the area of processing for the decommissioning of 145 combatants of the MILF, inside the gymnasium of the old Maguindanoa provincial captiol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

It should also have established the National Agency Task Force for the Disbandment of the PAGs (private armed groups) and Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission. These two bodies are still in the process of setting up.

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 (RA 11054) up to the establishment and operationalization of the police force for the Bangsamoro,” which will lead to the decommissioning of 35% more of MILF forces and weapons or a total of 65% by then.

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 evaluation 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 decommissioning, has been completed.”

The fourth and last phase involves the decommissioning of the remaining MILF forces and weapons or a total of 100% by then.

It is not clear how Phase 4 will be implemented given that the regional police force earlier envisioned in the peace agreement has not been carried into the Bangsamoro law.

Redeployment of AFP

Normalization under the peace agreement does not involve only the decommissioning of the MILF but also the redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from the conflict areas.

In Phase 1, the Joint Normalization Committee recommends criteria for AFP redeployment, with the Joint Peace and Security Committee (JPSC) and Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST) initiating work on disbandment of PAGs.

Phase 2, which ends with the ratification of (RA 11054) marks the start of the implementation of AFP redeployment; deactivation of the S/CAAs or the Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit; actions against PAGs; firearms control and management.

Phase 3 continues with the implementation of AFP redeployment; continuing actions against PAGs; firearms control and management while Phase 4 involves continuing redeployment; continuing actions against PAGs; firearms control and management. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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