MILF: Sincerity will make decommissioning efforts succeed
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2015 - 2:54pm

COTABATO City, Philippines - With their strong love for guns fanned by decades of feudal atmosphere in their surroundings, how can members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) easily depart from their firearms?

MILF chief negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal and his government counterpart, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, both said on Monday that the decommissioning of rebel forces and collection of their firearms will start this year as agreed by both sides.

Iqbal said it is their sincerity in furthering their peace compact with the government that guerillas shall willingly abide with the decommissioning process.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) had placed from only between 12,000 to 13,000 their estimate of the number of armed MILF members.

Many local stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process believe the group has no fewer than 30,000 to 50,000 followers, a big number of them armed with automatic weapons, much more than the estimate of the AFP and the PNP.

The International Decommissioning Body (IDB), the government and the MILF will start with the inventory of guns in the hands of rebels this year.

The IDB is comprised of representatives from Turkey, the European Union, and other foreign states helping push the government-MILF peace efforts forward.

Many local executives, among them Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Mujiv Hataman and Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, assured to help in the decommissioning process through community projects that could generate livelihood opportunities for MILF members.

Hataman said providing MILF communities with needed infrastructures will improve the productivity of rebels and make them feel the relevance of not keeping firearms to fight the government.

Hataman's office has actively been implementing since 2012 costly infrastructure projects and socio-economic interventions in areas where there are MILF camps, in support of Malacañang's development agenda meant to improve the lives of rebels in far-flung peasant and fishing enclaves.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said the IDB will oversee the decommissioning of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), including the inventory and verification of their fighters and weapons.

There will also be a joint security assessment and an inventory of duly-constituted Philippine security troops and units in the proposed Bangsamoro core territory, as a prelude for the redeployment of military personnel and to “avoid a security vacuum” in the proposed MILF-led Bangsamoro government, Deles added.

The decommissioning process will also focus on how to address private armies and armed followers of partisan personalities in Muslim areas, known for keeping firearm arsenals as protection against political enemies, as status symbol, and as “tools” for perpetuating power.

The MILF said it is now ready to forge ahead with the decommissioning process.

Deles said members of the IDB will meet this month to discuss concerns regarding the initiative.

The MILF’s central leadership had even announced it will officiate a symbolic turnover of firearms by guerillas as a kickoff rite for the IDB's decommissioning effort.

“Surely, it will be a sentimental thing for our members. We are sincere in keeping our commitment to decommission our forces as part of our peace agreement with government,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal is chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which is comprised of representatives from the MILF and government.

Mangudadatu, presiding chair of the Maguindanao peace and order council, said one way of supporting the decommissioning process is to settle more clan wars involving families identified with the MILF and their adversaries.

Mangudadatu, who has jurisdiction over 36 towns that are known havens of Moro forces, said they have settled at least 48 clan wars in Maguindanao in the past 36 months.

“This is our response to a directive to me, from no less than President Benigno Aquino III, to initiate the reconciliation of feuding clans in Maguindanao, in support of the normalization and decommissioning efforts of the government and the MILF,” said Mangudadatu, also concurrent chair of the Maguindanao Task Force on Reconciliation and Unification.

The governor said most of the 48 clan wars the task force had settled were done with the help of representatives from the MILF and the Army's 6th Infantry Division.

Local executives in Lanao del Sur, a component province of ARMM, which accounts for most number of still unsettled clan wars in the region, are just as ready to help in the decommissioning process too.

Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. said he and his constituent-mayors shall embark on programs that can complement the decommissioning initiative.

"That's good for our people, our province. We have no problem helping the GPH and MILF carry that out," Adiong said.

The MILF had repeatedly insinuated, through its website, the www.luwaran.com, that the decommissioning process will boost the efforts of restoring normalcy in areas devastated by armed conflicts in decades past.

Iqbal, who, as MILF negotiator, was instrumental in the crafting of the Oct. 15, 2013 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and, subsequently, the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, assured of their group’s dedication to the decommissioning process.

ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES AUTONOMOUS REGION BANGSAMORO DECOMMISSIONING GOVERNMENT IQBAL MAGUINDANAO MANGUDADATU MILF PROCESS
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