PEACE PROCESS

MILF set to disarm 145 fighters, give up high-powered weapons

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The Moro Islamic Liberation Front will begin the first phase of decommissioning its fighters on June 16, the chief negotiators of both the Philippine government and the rebel group said on Thursday.

In a joint press conference, government peace panel chairman Miriam Coronel-Ferrer confirmed that decommissioning, or rendering MILF fighting units “beyond use” and returning their fighters to civilian life, will begin on June 16.

The “gradual decommissioning” is contained in the Annex on Normalization signed by the MILF and the government in January 2014.

“Phase 1 of the process will begin with the ceremonial turnover of 55 high-powered firearms and 20 crew-served weapons, and the decommissioning of 145 members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces,” she said.


The weapons will be turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body, while the decommissioned combatants will be registered, their identities verified after which they will be provided immediate cash assistance amounting to P25,000 and PhilHealth insurance cards.

President Benigno S, Aquino 3rd is expected to witness the symbolic turnover of firearms in Maguindanao.

“The President himself will be the guest of honor during the event and we are inviting our esteemed lawmakers from the House of Representatives and the Senate to join us and witness the commitment of both parties to put an end to the armed conflict,” Ferrer said.

“This is just the start of the decommissioning process, which the MILF has committed to undertake as a show of its sincerity to peace building,” she added, emphasizing that this “shows the continued commitment of both parties to bring peace” even as the Bangsamoro Basic Law is still being deliberated in both chambers of Congress.

Congress went on recess on Wednesday with the House of Representatives setting aside voting on the Bangsamoro Basic Law—now called the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region—in plenary. The Senate version of the bill has yet to get past the committee level.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal earlier described the decommissioning process as “very difficult” but noted that the MILF has committed to “undertake the ultimate sacrifice.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles has noted that the decommissioning process the MILF is set to undergo is unprecedented, as it was not done during the earlier peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“We’ve never had an armed organization that has been fighting with government as an organization voluntarily—in partnership with the government—turn over weapons,” Deles said, explaining that the peace accord with the MNLF only ushered in an integration of combatants with the armed forces and the police.

Marcos substitute
President Aquino on Thursday said he will support the substitute BBL bill which Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised to present to the Senate “if it’s really a better one.”

Speaking in Iloilo, the President said he has yet to see anything from Marcos’ end following the lawmaker’s pronouncement last week that he will be drafting a better version of the measure.

“I don’t comment on things that I never seen. So he has not shown me anything. Anuman ang comment ko diyan, sasabihin may bias ako sa kanya. And if he did come up with a better bill, good; and if it’s really a better one why not support it?” Aquino told reporters.

Marcos, in a privileged speech, rejected the Malacañang version of the BBL as he noted several provisions that he believes would never pass judicial scrutiny.

Marcos, chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government which is reviewing the draft BBL, argued that the government and the MILF failed to muster wide public support because the panels left out important groups and individuals when they were drafting the BBL.

He explained that the present form of the BBL will only lead the country to perdition, stressing that he will continue to hold hearings and consultations before drafting the substitute bill which he plans to submit by late July.

While President Aquino yielded to the exclusive power of Congress in drafting bills and creating laws, he said it would be for the best interest of the country if Marcos could immediately present his “better” version of the BBL.

“Perhaps, we can start the process by showing it, discuss, and then hasten the process of crafting the best bill possible,” he stressed.

Malacanang originally hoped to see the passage of the BBL before the sine die adjournment on June 11. While the ad hoc House committee on the BBL passed its own version of the bill, Marcos stood ground and refused to be “dictated upon” by Malacanang.

Aquino said he will continue to convince the leaders of both chambers and their members of the importance of the BBL.

“I think, we’re slightly behind schedule but sa dulo po nito, lahat naman ng poder nanggagaling sa taumbayan (in the end, it will be the people who will make the final call),” he pointed out.

Marcos meanwhile expressed confidence that he could make Malacañanag and the MILF see that the amendments on the proposed BBL are essential for it to work and succeed in its goal of achieving peace in Mindanao.

Marcos issued the statement following calls made separately by MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and Malacanang, for Congress to adopt the draft BBL, instead of preparing a substitute bill.

Marcos explained that all changes he intends to make on the draft BBL are based on logic and reason and he believes that the MILF and the Palace will see it the way he does.

“I’m quite confident—because this is all based in logic and reason–that I can explain and make them see that this is actually necessary, because if we don’t do this it will be struck down in Supreme Court; if we don’t do this, this sector will rise up and cause trouble. It is based on reason,” the senator pointed out.

Marcos said the MILF and Malacanang should be patient and wait for the senate’s version as he assured that their concerns and their issues will be addressed, but not necessarily the way that they want.

The senator said all worries and criticisms MILF and Malacañang expressed are premature because there is no substitute bill to speak of as of this time.

MILF warning
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal on Thursday warned that a failure to pass the proposed BBL would result to resurgence of hostilities and would make Mindanao a safe haven for local and foreign radical groups.

Iqbal made the statement following Congress’ failure to meet its self-imposed June 10 deadline to pass the BBL as he stressed that they remain hopeful that the proposed measure would eventually be enacted into law.

He added that if the BBL is not passed, the MILF would eventually weaken and lose its credibility, while those espousing radical agenda would grow stronger because they would use the result as proof that pursuing the peace process was a wrong move.

“It will also result in widespread frustration that can generate new anti-government activities, even granting the MILF will stay faithful to what it had stated time and again that even if the BBL will not pass Congress, it will always pursue the path of peace in the resolution of the Moro problem question in Mindanao. Besides, local and foreign radical groups will make Mindanao their safe havens,” he said.

Without the MILF, Iqbal pointed out, the government has nobody to talk to in Mindanao because the other Muslim groups like the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were all unwilling parties, while the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has already signed a peace agreement with the government.

He pointed out that the Abu Sayyaf is only concerned with their kidnapping activities, while the BIFF don’t believe that negotiation is the right path to peace.

He stressed that t military option is not a solution because in war everybody is a loser.

Iqbal said that it is very important that the signed BBL draft be approved by Congress without dilution in its fundamental provisions.
The MILF, he added, would only accept minor changes, which he described as “enhancement and improvement.”

“We welcome enhancement and improvement. It’s like a tree. The fundamental parts of a tree are the roots, trunk and leaves. If you remove the fundamental parts, it will die,” Iqbal pointed out.

“If Congress, for example, would make the sharing on metals 75-25 for the Bangsamoro that’s improvement, we will accept that. But if they will make it 50-50 that’s not improvement or enhancement, we can’t accept that,” he added.

Iqbal said that the passage of the BBL depends on Congress but at the end of the day, the MILF has only two option, whether to accept or not to accept the approve version, “there is no middle ground.”

According to Iqbal, the MILF has already made a “brinkmanship” decision to ensure that the negotiation would not be another MNLF because there is no way forward except to follow the ongoing process,
“This is a challenge to the government. It has the obligation to implement it otherwise it will follow the footstep of the MNLF,” he added.

Iqbal stressed that the draft BBL was the result of 17 long years of negotiations with the active participation of MILF, government and multi-sectoral representatives, while the 1976 Tripoli Agreement was only the creation of Congress.

On the otherhand, Iqbal said, passage of the BBL will promote peace and security, progress, and development only in the Bangsmoro and Mindanao but also for the entire country.

“Once the BBL is passed, the MILF, which is the largest and strongest revolutionary organization in this country, will rejoin the mainstream society and they will become productive,” he added.

WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO, JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL AND JAIME R. PILAPIL

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2 Comments

  1. Best solution is to abolish autonomous regions,give a chance for all armed groups to surrender and be given amnesty and those who dont will be hunted down dead or alive .

  2. If any one seriously thinks this peace will last with this group of thugs you have another thing coming.
    It’s just another example of shaking hands with the Devil. You will get burned. Badly.