14,000 MILF fighters, over 2,000 weapons due for Phase 3 deactivation

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews /14 June) – Some 14,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters with their 2,450 weapons will be included in the third phase of decommissioning this year in adherence to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), it was learned Tuesday.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. (right), Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconcialiation and Unity, during the second  phase of the decommissioning process of MILF combatants and weapons in September 2019. MindaNews file photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Fatih Ulusoy, chair of the foreign-led Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), confirmed that the MILF had already submitted the list of combatants and weapons that will be deactivated in line with the normalization track of the CAB.

“We are especially grateful to the MILF for their relentless efforts towards fulfilling their commitment,” he said in a statement.

The Phase 3 involves 35 percent of the 40,000-strong MILF, which waged a decades-old war with the government in a bid for Muslim self-rule in Mindanao.

Ulusoy said the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic affected the IDB’s work but that it remains highly committed in fulfilling its mandate of overseeing the decommissioning process “with utmost impartiality, integrity and confidentiality.”

He described the submission of the list of MILF fighters and their weapons that will be decommissioned as another significant milestone in the implementation of the CAB.

The CAB is the final peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. The normalization aspect involves not just the deactivation of MILF fighters and weapons but also the transformation of their camps into peaceful and productive zones.

In 2015, former President Benigno Aquino III led the Phase 1 of the decommissioning process involving 145 MILF fighters and 75 high-powered weapons in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao.

The second phase kicked off in September 2019 with President Rodrigo Duterte leading the ceremony held also in Sultan Kudarat town. It involved 12,000 MILF members and at least 2,100 assorted weapons in a process that was completed in March 2020, according to IDB.

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

The second phase of decommissioning came months after the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

The BARMM is governed by the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), whose mandate will expire on June 30, 2022. The BTA and other sectors have been pushing for the extension of the transition period, citing the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in implementing the provisions of the CAB.

Bangsamoro interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, also the MILF chair, said the transition period is not just centered on establishing the regional bureaucracy in the Bangsamoro region.
“The other half of the process is the normalization track which aims to transform our combatants as productive civilian members of the society and reform their respective communities from decades-long of unrest and conflict,” Ebrahim said in a statement.

If the GPH-MILF timetable is followed, the rest of the remaining MILF combatants and armaments will be processed until 2022 for the expected signing of the exit agreement between the government and the MILF.

Apart from the government and the MILF, Ulusoy lauded the international community for its continuing support to establish a just and lasting peace in the southern Philippines.

“We encourage the parties to maintain the positive momentum and progress towards a lasting peace in Mindanao,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)

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