Combatant awaiting decommissioning: “They are lucky they were not born during wartime and did not spend most of their years in a war situation”

CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 08 Nov) — “Nay, ang hirap po pala pag-ipinanganak ka sa panahon ng gyera ano, lalaki ka rin na makipag gyera (Mother, it’s difficult to be born during wartime, you grow up becoming a warrior),” Abu Nasif Sarip recalls telling his mother decades ago.

He was born in the 1970s, when the Moro rebellion started to flare in pockets of Mindanao, fueled by their bid for self-rule in the southern Philippines. His father and other uncles fought under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which was founded by Nur Misuari.

Sarip and his five brothers also became combatants mostly under the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which split from the MNLF in the late 1970s and waged a war with the government for nearly four decades.

Abdulgapor Shariff, chief of the General Staff Special Task Force, aka Abu Nasif Sarip, at his office inside Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on Monday, 8 November 2021. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

In 2014, the government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), their final peace agreement, after 17 years of negotiations, which was disrupted by major wars that displaced tens of thousands of civilians, mostly in Maguindanao and neighboring North Cotabato.

The 48-year old Sarip has five children, the eldest of whom died shortly after birth due to alleged poisoning from a gas lamp as the family hid under the tunnel during a heavy artillery bombardment in Camp Abubakar, then the main camp of the MILF. Abubakar fell in the hands of the government following the all-out war waged by then President Joseph Estrada in 2000.

The eldest among the remaining four children is now in college, two are in high school and the youngest is a four-year old boy named Gil Nasif.

“My children are lucky, they’re reaping the gains of our sacrifices with the peace taking place in our midst since the signing of the final peace agreement,” Sarip, a high school graduate, told MindaNews at his office in the sprawling Camp Darapanan, now the main headquarters of MILF that traverses six villages.

Sarip is his nom de guerre. He adopted the name Abu Nasif Sarip, the name on  his uniform’s nameplate, because of their four-year-old Gil Nasif, whom he calls a “peacetime baby,” having been born three years after the forging of the CAB. Abu Nasif means the “father of Nasif.”

Sarip’s real name is Abdulgapor Shariff, chief of the General Staff Special Task Force, the security force for Camp Darapanan. To his men, he is popularly called Commander Garex.

Sarip is a hardcore MILF combatant. He rose from the ranks, starting out as a private and now referred to as ‘brigadier general,’ to use the Philippine military rank description. Combat-wise, he could not forget the 2000 all-out war in Camp Abubakar.

“We faced the full military might of the Philippines. If it was just pure ground combat – without their air and artillery assets – we could have stood our ground in Camp Abubakar with our strategic bunkers and familiarity with the terrain,” he recalled.

Decommissioning

Seven years after the signing of the CAB on March 27, 2014, Sarip has yet to be decommissioned. But a number of his fellow combatants will be decommissioned starting Monday, November 8.

November 8 is the ceremonial launching of the Phase 3 of the decommissioning process for MILF combatants and their weapons at the  old Provincial Capitol in Barangay Crossing Simuay, the same venue for Phase 1 in 2015 and Phase 2 in 2019.

Only the state-owned information agency, however, was allowed to cover. Independent private media was not allowed even as they were present during the ceremonies during the first and second phases.

Members of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-5 flag down vehicles passing along the Old Provincial Capitol in Barangay Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat for security check on Monday, 8 November 2021, as the Phase 3 of the decommissioning process for MILF combatants and their weapons starts. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Last Saturday, the government-MILF Joint Communication Committee held a press briefing, facilitated by the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, for Monday’s decommissioning rites. Among the resource speakers were top officials from the Independent Decommissioning Body, which is overseeing the decommissioning process.

MILF fighters who will be decommissioned during this phase are staying in the MILF’s main camp, in Simuay, and are brought to the Old Provincial Capitol for processing, to ensure health protocols are followed.

The decommissioning of 40,000 MILF combatants and their weapons is at the core of the normalization phase of the CAB. Normalization also includes the transformation of at least six recognized MILF camps into productive economic zones.

For Phase 3, at least 14,000 MILF combatants, or 35 percent of its forces, and about 2,500 weapons will be decommissioned.

William Hovland, IDB vice chair, said during Saturday’s press briefing that from November 8 to December 17, 2021, at least 175 MILF combatants will be decommissioned per day, or a total of 7,000 individuals during the period.

The decommissioning for the remaining 7,000 is expected to resume next year.

Hovland said they will ensure that COVID-19 health and safety protocols will be followed in the decommissioning process.

Peace is ‘enough reward’

Under the normalization aspect of the CAB, MILF combatants will be decommissioned as key milestones of the peace agreement are achieved.

Phase 1 of the decommissioning process took place in June 2015, in the presence of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. It involved 145 MILF fighters and 75 high-powered weapons.

Phase 2 commenced in September 2019 with President Duterte gracing the event. It was completed in March 2020 with the decommissioning of 12,000 MILF combatants, at least 2,100 assorted weapons and at least 500 ammunition.

MILF combatants included in the Phase 3 decommissioning process wait to be fetched inside Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao for processing at the Old Provincial Capitol on Monday, 8 November 2021. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Each deactivated MILF fighter received P100,000 cash and a package of socio-economic promises all totaling to P1 million, including education and livelihood training programs.

Sarip said he was not included in the third decommissioning phase.

The priority of the MILF leadership in the deactivation process are our older comrades who dedicated their lives to the Moro revolution, he added.

At 48, Sarip believes he will be decommissioned in Phase 4, among the 14,000 MILF fighters or the remaining 35 percent of the front’s forces.

Sarip is not keen on the benefits he will receive as a decommissioned combatant.

He stressed that seeing the peace process holding and benefitting the younger Moro generation, referring to his children, and the rest of the Filipinos “is enough reward for me.”

“They are lucky they were not born during wartime and did not spend most of their years in a war situation,” Sarip said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)