Mixed messages at decommissioning: put guns beyond use, give gun as token, will give better guns

DAVAO CITY  (MindaNews / 10 September) – Saturday’s event at the gym of the old provincial capitol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao,  was supposed to have ended with a key message: the 1,060 combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) are decommissioned and will now live “productive and peaceful lives” as civilians, and the 940 guns turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) would be “put beyond use.”

“Under the normalization track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the decommissioning process will enable the MILF combatants to return to mainstream society as productive and peaceful citizens, and put their weapons beyond use,” Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez said Friday in Cotabato City, during the Media Forum on Decommissioning.

Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao hands over an Isreali-made Tavor assault rifle as the MILF’s token of appreciation for what the President has done for the Bangsamoro, during the decommissioning of 1,060 combatants and 940 firearms at the gym of the old provincial capitol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on 7 September 2019. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

The narrative on Saturday night, however, changed from “put guns beyond use” to “give gun as token,” to “will give you better guns.”

After thanking President Rodrigo Duterte and other institutions for their help in the peace process, Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, MILF chair and interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) addressed the combatants and the Bangsamoro youth: “the cause will live on in each and every single one of you. Our time in the battlefield is over but (for) our youth, it is now your time to face the battle of achieving greatness from the things that you are passionate of and out of the opportunities that the sacrifices of your elders have created for you. These fruits are what our forefathers would have wanted to see: a community flourishing, a bangsa that is thriving and a peaceful region existing.”

Before leaving the podium, Murad announced they were giving President Duterte a “token,” as manifestation of their “sincere appreciation” and goodwill.

“This token represents our appreciation, our very strong appreciation for what he has done to the Bangsamoro people and the Bangsamoro homeland,” he said.

He handed over to President Rodrigo Duterte a pelican case containing an Israeli-made Tavor assault rifle. CNN Philippines quoted Senator Bong Go, who was present in the Simuay event, as saying the gun was a Tavor 5.56 mm assault rifle.

Addressing the now former combatants, Duterte said “do not be sad” for handing over their weapons.

President Rodrigo Duterte checks out some of mortars that were decommissioned along with the 940 firearms owned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front at the gymnasium of the old provincial capitol in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao on Saturday, September 7, 2019. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

“Huwag kayo — do not be sad na ang armas ninyo binigay ninyo sa gobyerno. Kasi kayo gobyerno na. Eh kung kailangan talaga ninyo ng armas para idepensa ninyo ang gobyerno dito sa BARMM. Walang problema. Bigyan ko kayo mas bago. Kasing bago nung binigay ni Kagi sa akin. (Do not be sad that you gave your guns to government. Because you are now government. But if you really need arms to defend your government here in the BARMM, no problem. I will give you newer ones. As new as what Kagi (Murad) gave me). The crowd applauded.

“Magbili pa ako mas bago, mas maganda (I will buy newer ones, better ones). So do not be disheartened na nag-surrender ka ng armas” (that you surrendered arms), the President said.

“No symbolism”

On Sunday morning, Murad told MindaNews that there was no symbolism attached to gifting Duterte a gun on the day the BIAF’s guns were turned over to be “put beyond use.”

“Actually it was an instant decision,” he said, adding that somebody suggested to him that if he had a special gun, he might want to give it to the President who, he was told “is fond of collecting special types of weapons.” He declined to name the “somebody” who made the suggestion.

He said he consulted their Mufti and was told it was alright as it was a “gesture of appreciation, expression of gratitude.”

Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. (right), Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, inspects weapons from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that were decommissioned as part of the peace process between the Philippine Government and the MILF in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat on September 7, 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“Wala namang symbolisnm doon kung bakit armas binigay” (There was no symbolism as to why we gave a gun), Murad, the BARMM’s top government official, told MindaNews during a sitdowin interview last Sunday in Camp Darapanan, where the BARMM Chief Minister spends his weekends.

He admitted the Tavor rifle was an expensive “token.”

“Medyo mahal” (Quite expensive), Murad said.

The gun costs at least 2,000 US dollars or at least 100,000 pesos. Sources in the security sector gave several estimates on the cost of the gun in the Philippines – from 150,000 to 300,000 pesos.

Last month, Duterte was criticized for saying it was okay for policemen to accept gifts.

In his speech at the 118th anniversary of the Philippine National Police on August 9, Duterte said: “Well, basta kung bigyan kayo, eh tanggapin ninyo. (Well, if you’re given, accept it). It is not bribery because — it cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law. What I mean if there is generosity in them, sabi ng anti-graft (the anti-graft law says) you cannot accept gifts. Kalokohan ‘yan” (That’s crazy).

“Feeling of gratitude”

“I know that, especially the police, if you are able to solve a crime and you guys from Davao, alam man ninyo ‘yan (you know that). If you are able to solve a crime and the family would like to be generous to you or would nurture a feeling of gratitude for what you accomplish, then by all means, accept it. Wala akong ano” (I have nothing against that), he said.

Section 7 of RA 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, provides that “public officials and employees shall not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.”

RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act prohibits government workers from requesting or receiving gifts but with an exception under Section 14, that “unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as a mere ordinary token of gratitude or friendship according to local customs or usage, shall be excepted.”

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo cited this exemption on gifts of “small or insignificant value.” He said government personnel should not accept “expensive” gifts and that it is the court that will decide on what is “small or insignificant.”

“Common sense will tell us what is nominal or insignificant. If it goes beyond common understanding, then the court will decide,” he added.

On August 19, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra asked the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to set guidelines on gifts that may be received by government workers.

“If I may suggest (to) the CSC commissioners, baka they may have to set specific guidelines para ang duda kung a government or public officer is exceeding the bounds of ethics, (they may have to set specific guidelines to clearly delineate when a government or public officer is exceeding the bounds of ethics),” the state-run Philippine News Agency quoted him as saying. (Carolyn O. Arguillas /MindaNews)