‘80% of illegal guns in PH in Mindanao’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/15 July) – Data from the Philippine National Police showed that 80 percent of the country’s two million illegal firearms are in Mindanao complicating the island’s already fragile security situation, a former lawmaker today said.

Speaking before the Governors, Bishops and Civil Society Conference today, Ariel Hernandez of Action Asia Leaders Forum said that Mindanao’s “conflict transformation equation” has two sides: the illegal firearms, armed groups and state-sponsored militia on one hand, and the formal peace processes with rebel groups on the other.

Hernandez, an Eisenhower Fellow and former representative of the Anak Mindanao Party-list said that the presence of the 45,000-strong Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit and Civilian Auxiliary Army, had only aggravated the situation.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and local government units consider Cafgus and CAAs as “force multipliers” in the fight against the communist and Moro rebellions.

“Add to it the combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, New People’s Army and the private armies of politicians, [and] Mindanao easily has 100,000 armed militias,” Hernandez said.

Demobilizing these militias is a complicated problem, he added.

“The peace process is an important process but it may only represent 50 percent of the solution, the other 50 percent is how to demobilize Mindanao’s armed militias,” said Hernandez who as Eisenhower Fellow this year studied  security sector reform programs and the role of government agencies, NGOs, and business groups in the security sector in the United States.

“Our disarmament program is a failed program. Armed militias surrender their old and rusty firearms, and get compensation from government in exchange for surrendering these firearms to buy new ones,” he said.

Unless the human security situation is improved, armed militias will continue to bear arms and play around the government’s balik baril program, he added.

Under the Balik Baril Program of the Department of National Defense, those who surrender unlicensed firearms get P60,000 reward from government. This incentive is meant to entice rebels to return to surrender and use the amount to start a livelihood and reintegrate in the community.

The government is currently holding peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front and the MILF.

Past administrations had concluded talks with the Moro National Liberation Front and the Rebolusyunaryong Partido Manggagawa ng Mindanao, which broke away from the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The MNLF signed a Final Peace Agreement with the government in 1996, although the Front had expressed dissatisfaction on the way the pact had been implemented.

The RPMM signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 2006, although the group was not known to have engaged in hostilities with the military.

Hernandez said resolving the Mindanao conflict still hinges on correcting the “historic marginalization” of the island.

He highlighted Mindanao’s contradiction as a major contributor to the national economy and yet lags behind in terms of human development.

He said that while most of the export earnings and forest and mineral resources come from Mindanao the 2008-2009 Human Development Report cited that the provinces of Tawi-tawi, Sulu, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, which are all hotbeds of the Bangsamoro rebellion, had the lowest life expectancy rates in the country.

Mindanao provinces wracked by conflict like Sarangani, Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi also had some of the lowest real per capita incomes and the lowest human development index in the Philippines.

The report said the HDI levels of these provinces were almost similar to those of Uganda, Nigeria and Senegal. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin/MindaNews)