Iqbal: Only 400 out of supposed 6,000-strong Bangsamoro joint peace security team trained

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 07 Nov) —  A 6,000-strong Joint Peace Security Team (JPST) tasked to secure peace in the  Bangsamoro communities is supposed to have been set up in line with the normalization process of the 2014 peace agreement between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but as of November 6, 2021, the JPST has only 300 to 400 persons trained, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace implementing panel and education minister in the Bangsamoro region, said.

The number represents less than 10% of the target number of 6,000.

“If you compare the 300 to 400 (who have been trained) with the 6,000 (JPST target members), it’s very, very way behind,” he said in a virtual press conference Saturday for Phase 3 of the Decommissioning of MILF Combatants and Weapons.

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

Intended for deployment to various parts of the five-province, three-city region, the 6-000 strong force as agreed upon by the government and the MILF, is composed of 3,000 members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and 3,000 government troops — 1,600 policemen and 1,400 soldiers.

Asked why the number of trained members is very small, Iqbal told MindaNews on Sunday that this was because of  the disruptions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic last year and the funding requirements.

Also, the training facilities, such as Camp SK Pendatun, headquarters of the Police Regional Office in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao cannot accommodate a large number of trainees all at the same time because of the small or limited space, he added.

“If we liken it to the speed of  a car, perhaps we are running at a slow speed of 30 kph (kilometers per hour),” he told MindaNews.

The normalization phase is part of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace deal signed by the government and the MILF in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations.

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

Executive Order 79 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on April 24, 2019, ordered the Department of National Defense and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to direct the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, respectively, to designate member of the JPST, in coordination with the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing.

The JPST shall serve as the operating units of the transitional components of the normalization program, it said.

In August 2019, the AFP and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) forged a memorandum of agreement for the former to provide basic military training to 3,000 BIAF combatants in order to prepare them as members of the JPST.

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.

Phase 3 will start on Monday, 8 November, at the Old Provincial Capitol in Barangay Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, the same venue for the 2015 and 2019 decommissioning rites. It will involve 14,000 MILF combatants, or 35 percent of its forces, and about 2,500 weapons.

Undersecretary David Diciano, chair of the government peace implementing panel, said  Phase 3 of the decommissioning process was supposed to start last year but the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 hampered its implementation.

The Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), which is led by Turkey, is overseeing the deactivation of MILF fighters and their weapons.

William Hovland, IDB vice chair, said the body is eyeing to process at least 7,000 MILF combatantas between November 8 and December 17, 2021 at 175 combatants per day. The rest will be processed next year.

“During the (Phase 3) decommissioning process, IDB and other normalization mechanisms or units will ensure compliance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)