MILF in transition: from armed group to social movement; from base commands to cooperatives

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 September) – As interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Balawag Ebrahim, more popularly known by his nom de guerre Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, lives and works within the BARMM compound in Cotabato City on weekdays but on weekends, returns to Camp Darapanan in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao for his other role, as chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Murad has maintained this dual role since February 26, 2019 when he assumed the post of interim Chief Minister, the head of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) tasked to govern the BARMM until its first set of elected officials shall have been elected and sworn in on June 30, 2022.

Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and chair of Moro Islamic Liberation Front, talks about the achievements of as well as challenges faced by the Bangsamoro Autonomosu Region in Muslim Mindanao in a sit down interview with MindaNews on September 8, 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Murad is not alone in this dual role category. Members of the MILF Central Committee who are now in the Cabinet or the Parliament, too.

As the BARMM is in transition, so is the MILF which, as provided under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that government and the MILF signed in March 2014, dominates the leadership of the Bangsamoro government during the three-year transition.

In a sitdown interview Sunday with Murad in Camp Darapanan where the BARMM Chief Minister spends his weekends, Murad said he is “more focused on the governance kasi yun ang main obligation ko ngayon as head of the government.”  As chair of the MILF, he says he has delegated some tasks to other officials and the MILF secretariat which runs the day to day affairs of the MILF.

He explained the MILF will eventually be turned into a social movement, its military base commands into cooperatives, once the 40,000 combatants and 7,000 weapons of its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), shall have been fully decommissioned by 2022.

Last Saturday, 1,060 combatants and 940 weapons, including some 20 “big” firearms were decommissioned under Phase 2 of the four-phase Normalization.

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who will be decommissioned arrive at the Old Capitol complex in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat on Saturday, September 7, 2019, for the launch of the second phase of the decommissioning process. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Phase 2 involves the decommissioning of 30% of the 40,000 combatants and 7,000 weapons or 12,000 and 2,100, respectively, to be processed in eight decommissioning sites such as the MILF’s Camp Rajahmuda, between September 7, 2019 and April 14, 2020.

In June 2015, 145 combatants and 75 weapons, including 20 crew-served, were decommissioned, bringing the total number of decommissioned combatants at 1,205 and weapons at 1,015.

By the end of Phase 4 in 2022, the BIAF would have been phased out and the MILF would be “basically civilian in character,” Murad said.

“Ang mawawala lang yung armed component. After the decommissioning talagang wala nang BIAF and BIWAB (Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade) mawawala na” (there will no longer be a BIAF and BIWAB),” he said.

“To sustain the unity of the people, we are thinking … we will organize them into cooperatives,” Murad said, adding “one (military) base command is one cooperative. The base commander will be head of the cooperative.”

In his speech at the decommissioning, President Rodrigo Duterte assured officials of the BARMM, the MILF, “and the people of Mindanao” that his administration “will always listen to your grievances.”

“Let us set aside our differences and avoid further armed conflict,” the President said.

He noted that as the former combatants open a new chapter in their lives, “I hope that they will be inspired to take this opportunity to improve their lives and create a better future for your families and loved ones as well.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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