• FEATURE

    MILF ex-combatant spends more time with family

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    CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao: For more than forty years, Jacob Palao has lived as a freedom fighter with Muslim revolutionary groups struggling for self-determination in Southern Philippines.

    He spent most of his life in the jungle before the current peace process between the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) began and gave him an opportunity to change his life.

    Palao, 56, said he first joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)’s Zone 4 in Cotabato province at the age of 12. He then transferred to the MILF after the rebels separated from the mother unit sometime in 1980s.
    Palao is now among 145 profiled members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who turned over their firearms on June 16, 2015. The decommissioned combatants are the initial results of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) which was signed on March 27, 2014.

    “I really wanted to spend the rest of my time with my family so I could also witness my children complete their studies and dreams,” Palao said during the recent turnover of livelihood assistance to 127 former MILF combatants here at the rebel headquarters in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

    He said three of his children are in school and his eldest son, a management scholar at a university abroad, is about to graduate.

    “If not for the current peace process, my eldest son could have been one of the young field commanders of the MILF fighting the government,” he said as he thanked the government for assistance provided to them.

    Palao and his fellow decommissioned combatants received last Wednesday 103 heads of carabao (water
    buffaloes), 83 cattle, 38 goats, seedlings and farming tools from the government through the Department of Agriculture.

    Palao said he will treasure what the government and other peace stakeholders have done for them who have been locked up in the decades-long rebellion.

    “I never expected in my entire life that this day would come when we will be carrying ploughs and carabaos to our farms together with our families instead of firearms,” he added in the vernacular.

    The turnover of the agricultural assistance was spearheaded by members of the Task Force for Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC), an implementing body created on March 31, 2015 and mandated to undertake special socio-economic and development programs for the decommissioned women auxiliary forces of the MILF.

    The event was attended by Government Implementing Panel Chair Irene Santiago, Agriculture Undersecretary Ranibai Dilangalen and officials from the TFDCC and the Muslim revolutionaries.

    “Our approach to the decommissioned combatants is case to case basis, so we make sure that various situations and issues that concerns the decommissioned combatants are properly addressed to make sure that these aids have an impact on their lives,” TFDCC Chair and Assistant Secretary Rolando Asuncion said.

    “We are learning a lot of things so we are preparing for an enhanced program for the second batch based on our experience from the first batch of decommissioned combatants,” he added.

    Asuncion also announced that 18 remaining decommissioned combatants will received their shares in April.
    Dilangalen pointed out that the recent programs and commitments made are manifestations of President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that the Bangsamoro peace process should proceed and the enabling programs should be fast-tracked.

    While Santiago explained that the program will not be like the usual distribution of livelihood assistance.
    “We are looking at changes and these are not just giving and delivering. This is about making social change not only with the decommissioned combatants but also to their entire communities,” she said.

    “What we are doing is to bring about this just peace that the Bangsamoro people have been struggling for. We really want to listen to them so that they own that change that is going to come,” she added saying that the process of normalization will be from transition to transformation not only of the combatants but also their communities.

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