DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Oct) – North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou “Lala” J. Taliño-Mendoza is asking armed civilians to register their firearms, saying that there may be no longer be reason to invest in firearms following the signing of the Framework Agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The GPH and the MILF have committed to work in partnership for the reduction and control of firearms and the disbandment of private armies and other armed groups in the Bangsamoro area, as stated in the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro signed Monday.
“In Mindanao, the first investment of a person is firearms because of the situation. That’s why there was an amnesty conducted two or three years ago to register guns. Hindi naman binabawal na may baril, pero gawin mong legal (It’s not that possession of firearms is being prohibited; just make it legal),” the governor told MindaNews in an interview Saturday.
She said by registering firearms, the bearer will be more responsible and the government, particularly the police and the military, will be accountable as to who should be allowed to possess firearms in the locality.
Similarly, Mayor Loreto Cabaya of Aleosan, North Cotabato told MindaNews during an interview in his town last Friday that with the Framework Agreement, there may be no need for people in Mindanao to bring firearms.
Along with his people, he hopes that both GPH and MILF will follow all the provisions in the Framework Agreement because, he said, “If we can see that the government is sincere to ensure the safety of everyone, maybe there is no need to have weapons.”
Cabaya said the local government is looking at disarming the Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVO) and paramilitary units, considering that many people in Aleosan, especially in Bagolibas Village, have firearms to protect themselves.
In the same manner, he added, almost everyone in Moro communities have guns because it is part of their culture to protect themselves.
Cabaya pointed out that after resolving the conflict between the GPH and MILF, there are still other things to consider, such as threats from terrorist groups, thefts, bandits and other lawless elements.
“The basic question is, why do they have firearms, whether they are CVO or Ilaga? It is because they don’t feel safe, brought about by the conflict in Mindanao,” he said.
Ilaga, a local term for rat, is an armed civilian group that was first established in 1970s. Members reportedly use amulets, machetes and obsolete rifles to defend their communities from Moro rebels.
During the 1972 conflict, the bulk of the Ilaga fighters came from Aleosan, Pigkawayan, Midsayap and Libongan where settlers from Visayas and Luzon are dominant, Cabaya said.
Most of the Ilagas of that generation are already dead and those who are left behind are too old already, he noted. Thus, their sons and grandchildren, who belong to the CVO, are now the ones taking up arms.
Cabaya said the people are hopeful that with the signing of the Framework Agreement, no one will bring arms anymore, may they be Ilaga or not.
“But the name Ilaga will always be there if we cannot resolve the conflict as there are places where people have nothing to rely on but their own hands. They must defend themselves,” he said.
He added: “But if we can secure these people because the Philippine government and Bangsamoro are here to secure their territories against lawless elements, we can say that they don’t need weapons.”
Cabaya said that leaders of North Cotabato are asking for the representation of other sectors during the appointment of members of the Transition Commission even if they will not belong to the Bangsamoro entity.
These sectors, he added, include the government and non-Moro settlers in Mindanao, because it is not just a matter of making peace within the bounds of the Bangsamoro entity, “but we also need to ensure that there’s peace outside the Bangsamoro entity.”
“It will become our bottleneck because there will still be a Moro who is member of MILF outside the Bangsamoro entity, who will live among us as our neighbors. We need to have understanding among each other not only in the territory of the Bangsamoro,” he told MindaNews.
Cabaya noted that in crafting the Basic Law for Bangsamoro that will be done by the Transition Commission, there is a need to ensure the local governments’ relationship with the Bangsamoro entity, and improve the government’s relationship with members of MILF, inside and outside the Bangsamoro entity.
“Anyway, our country is still whole, whether one is included in the Bangsamoro or in Mindanao. We don’t need to fight over that because what’s important is that we’re working as one under one roof – the Philippines,” he stressed. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)