Groundwork for decommissioning of MILF forces, weapons, communities readied

CAMP SIONGCO, DOS, Maguindanao, April 24, 2019– Top military and police officials together with front and base commanders of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gathered here last Tuesday in a security and socio-economic forum to lay down the groundwork for the smooth implementation of the Normalization Track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez Jr. emphasized the main objective of the forum is to further strengthen the relationships among the parties for the successful implementation of the normalization track, which deals largely with the decommissioning of the MILF combatants and their weapons, and the transformation of their camps into peaceful communities.

“There should be a harmonious relationship among the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, and the BIAF. It should be mutually reinforcing,” he said.

Galvez said the goal is to help the MILF forces make the transition to mainstream society by putting their weapons beyond use. 

He said this development comes in the heels of the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that catapulted the MILF leadership to lead the region’s interim parliamentary-form of government.

“As what Chief Minister Murad used to say, ‘moral leadership is inclusive’. What we need are sincerity and genuine concern in order to achieve human transformation inspired by individual, organizational, social, societal, and universal awareness,” Galvez said.

For this year, at least 12,000 MILF combatants will be decommissioned.

Galvez asked the BIAF front and base commanders to work together with the state security forces to ensure order in their communities once the formal decommissioning process begins this year.

“We would like to encourage you (MILF-BIAF) to help us. Let us police our own communities. Let us help the AFP and PNP in maintaining peace and order and our government’s fight against drugs, criminalities and violent extremism,” he said.

The Normalization Process is one of the annexes of the CAB signed between the Philippine government and the MILF in 2014.

The peace agreement has two tracks: the Political Track, which pushed for the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), and the Normalization Track, which covers the decommissioning of MILF fighters and their weapons, the dismantling of Private Armed Groups, as well as the transformation of several camps into progressive and resilient communities.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte had earlier approved in principle the proposed Executive Order (EO) on Normalization. It is a comprehensive plan of the national government that is designed to aid former combatants as they undergo the delicate transition process.

The Normalization process has four major components: the security aspect, socio-economic development program, confidence-building measures, and transitional justice and reconciliation.

The event on Tuesday centered on the security and transitional justice components of the Normalization process.

The chief presidential peace adviser said there is a need for all concerned parties to create a conducive and enabling environment for the entire process to be fully and effectively implemented.

According to Galvez, local forms of conflict such as rido or family feud and the presence of private armed group, which are major concerns among ethnic minorities in the southern Philippines, should also be addressed in the Normalization process.  

He noted the reasons that fuel such conflict include land disputes, local politics, grid for power and resources, “generational” ethnic misunderstanding and stereotyping among warring families.

Sammy Almansoor, also known as Sammy Gambar, former MILF’s Chief of Staff and now Minister for Environment in the BARMM, agreed with Galvez’ observation.

“It is crucial to take away the sense of insecurities in the communities for our combatants not to use their arms anymore,” he said.

Alamzor said “the real normalization begins from the heart.”

“In Islam, once you enter an agreement, regardless of religion, you have to follow (said agreement). Since this normalization and this decommissioning is part of an agreement, we are obliged to follow or adhere to that agreement,” he added.

Almanzor admitted that it may be difficult for some of the MILF combatants to give up their firearms because of their great dependence on these weapons for more than 40 years of struggle. However, he reaffirmed the MILF is fully committed to the decommissioning process.

“We used to carry our firearms on our shoulder bags. But right now, our shoulder bags are just full of medicines for athritis, vitamins and maintenace medicines,” he shared.

Under the Normalization track, Galvez said several transitional bodies will be created. This include the Joint Peace and Security Teams that will need at least 6,000 personnel. Half of this number will come from the MILF, who will undergo proper military trainings.

These bodies will form part of the transitional security arrangements that will ensure peace and in communities as the MILF fighters undergo the decommissioning process.

The transitional security arrangements will also deal with the disbandment of private armed groups, and the proliferation of loose firearms.

Galvez said President Duterte recently approved the creation of a Presidential Commission on Bail, Release and Pardon that will oversee the amnesty and pardon process for MILF combatants and CPP-NPA former rebels. 

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said that he was pleased with the sincerity being shown by MILF in the implementation of the Normalization process.

Dela Vega added the armed forces is ready to assist in carrying out the Normalization track.  

For his part, Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, pointed out that the presence of BIAF members inside the military camp indicates the mutual trust and respect that has been established between the AFP and the BIAF.

“To our brothers from BIAF, we welcome you here at Camp Siongco – this is your camp, this is open to all of you. Consider it as your home as we consider your communities as our home as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ebrahim vowed that the “Bangsamoro Government is morally bound to see to it that security becomes stable in the region and the people become productive in an environment that offers opportunities for growth.”

The combatants and their communities are the principal actors and beneficiaries of the Normalization Track that seeks to transform recognized MILF camps into show windows of peace and development.

“The first recipient of the true dividends of peace must be these individuals and their communities. If we can be successful in this respect, we would have the best argument that there is indeed value and hope in peace process, contrary to what other groups believe in,” Ebrahim said in speech read by Eduardo Uy Guerra, BARMM’s Minister of Finance, and Budget and Management and co-chair of the Joint Normalization Committee.

The activity was attended by high-ranking Officials from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity, the Office of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Philippine Army, the Police Regional Office-BARMM, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency-BARMM, and the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB).

The presence of the BIAF base commanders coming from the MILF-recognized camps during the meeting is considered a milestone of the Normalization process. 

The group was led by Central Mindanao Front Commander Suwaib L. Oranon; Eastern Mindanao Front Commander Jack Abas; National Guard Front Commander Sameer Hashim; North Western Mindanao Front Commander Abdulla Macapaar; Southern Mindanao Front Commander Kagui Abdulla; and Western Mindanao Front Commander Suwaib Musa.

Among the government forces present during the event were Police Lt General Archie Gamboa; Police Major General Benigno Durana Jr, Director, Police Community Relation; Police Brigadier General Graciano Mijares, Police Regional Office – BARMM; Police Brigadier General Gerardo Rosales, Chief, Peace and Development Office; Brigadier General Cesar De Mesa, Chief, AFP Peace and Development Office; and Police Brigadier General Madid Paitao, Chairman, Ad Hoc Joint Action Group.