Turning MILF camps into productive ecozones: still much work to be done

MILF weapons that were deactivated during Phase 2 in September 2019. MindaNews file photo by BONG SARMIENTO

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 03 March) – The transformation of the six recognized camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) into peaceful and productive economic zones has remained largely unfulfilled after a decade of discussions, a third party observer admitted Thursday.

Heino Marius, chair of the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), said the finalization of the Camps Transformation Plan and the Camps Transformation Investment Plan “have been agreed very recently.”

“We would expect that the Bangsamoro Normalization Trust Fund (BNTF), which is now in place and which has been  operationalized (last year), could also hopefully play an important role in working towards turning these camps into peaceful, productive communities,” he said in a hybrid press conference.

Marius said the discussions about the Bangsamoro normalization trust fund can be found in documents way back 2012, but it was only last year that the fund was operationalized.

The transformation of six MILF-recognized camps into productive economic zones is part of the confidence-building measures contained in the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

The CAB is the final peace agreement signed by the government and the MILF after 17 years of negotiations.

The six MILF enclaves recognized by both parties are camps Abubakar as-Sidique in Maguindanao, Bilal in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, Omar ibn al-Khattab in Maguindanao, Rajamuda in North Cotabato and Maguindanao, Badre in Maguindanao, and Busrah Somiorang in Lanao del Sur.

The BNTF was formally launched in May 2021 by the MILF-led Bangsamoro government, together with officials from the then Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the World Bank, which was chosen as fund administrator by the Philippine government and the MILF.

During the launching, Ndiamè Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, said the fund will assist the MILF combatants and their communities achieve their desired quality of life in a peaceful and inclusive manner.

The amount of the fund was not disclosed during the launching, but Diop said the international donors that had pledged support for the fund included the European Union, Australia, Canada, United Nations and Japan.

7th Public Report

On Thursday, the TPMT, which was established in 2013 with a mandate to monitor and review the implementation of the peace agreements between the Philippine government and the MILF, issued its 7th Public Report, covering the period from November 2020 to January 2022.

In a statement, the TPMT noted a steady progress in advancing the peace process in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which was created in 2019 following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic law for the BARMM.

The key achievements during the reporting period include the adoption of two more priority codes (Civil Service Code and the Education Code), the transfer of Cotabato City into BARMM administrative structures, regular interaction between the national government and the Bangsamoro government through the Intergovernmental Relations Body (IGRB), the issuance of an amnesty proclamation including for members of the MILF and the launch of the 3rd round of decommissioning of MILF forces, the TPMT said.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants in a military formation at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao. MILF fighters will be decommissioned in line with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the final peace deal between the government and the MILF signed in 2014. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

These achievements were obtained even though implementation of the peace process during the reporting period was slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic and the debate in Congress to extend the transition period of the BARMM from 2022 to 2025.

Several dimensions of the peace process are still at an early implementation stage, the TPMT said, adding that the challenge of realizing sustainable peace by 2025 remains great and should not be underestimated.

Looking forward, the TPMT encourages the following steps to consolidate the implementation of the peace process:

●      Adopt priority legislation ideally within the originally defined timeframe prior to June 2022;

●      Use the IGRB to methodically address pending issues and proceed with the operationalization of remaining IGR mechanisms;

●      Address normalization on the basis of synchronized actions combining all its different elements. Most importantly, resolve questions related to the provision of socio-economic packages for decommissioned combatants and agree on guidelines for the entry of MILF and MNLF into the PNP;

●      Ensure that the National Amnesty Commission can begin operations as soon as possible;

●      And, strive for greater security and prevention of violent incidents, whether involving rido, resource conflicts or extremism, through holistic and strategic measures.

The TPMT said it is convinced that the peace agreements remain the cornerstone of peace in Mindanao.

“Building a comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable peace in Mindanao is the key inheritance which the parties can leave to future generations. Their strongest underlying commitment and continued allegiance to the letter and spirit of the agreements is the best guarantee of success,” the body said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)