12,000 MILF fighters to be decommissioned under Philippines’ peace pact

Fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) man a checkpoint along a road leading to the group's main camp in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines. (AN file photo)
Updated 09 March 2019

12,000 MILF fighters to be decommissioned under Philippines’ peace pact

  • The Philippine government and the MILF signed a peace pact last year to end the decades-long conflict
  • Under the peace pact, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was expanded and the MILF plays a main role in governance

MANILA: With the new autonomous Bangsamoro government in place in Mindanao, south Philippines, the implementation of the peace process between the government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces is now underway, which includes the decommissioning of 12,000 combatants “within this year,” according to Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.

The normalization track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) has four major components: Security, a socio-economic development program, confidence-building measures, and transitional justice and reconciliation. 

It is one of two primary tracks of the CAB, the final peace agreement signed between the government and the MILF in 2014 after four decades of conflict that killed over 120,000 people.

Last Monday, an executive order (EO) on the execution of the normalization track was approved by President Duterte and Galvez said both sides are working double time to finalize its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) which include the decommissioning of MILF combatants, surrendering their weapons and the transformation of several camps into productive communities.

"The IRR will contain the work plan and other activities covering the three-year period. It will also cover critical timeline, the scope of work, and all the programs for the security, socio-economic programs, and transitional justice," Galvez said.

Right at the heart of the security component is the decommissioning of MILF combatants and the disbandment of private armed groups, and at least symbolically, that phase began back in 2015 when 145 former MILF rebels turned over their weapons to the International Decommissioning Body.

According to Galvez, 35 percent of remaining combatants will be decommissioned in 2020, and the rest in 2021-22 before the signing of exit agreements.

In an interview with Arab News in 2018, MILF's Eduardo Uy Guerra, chairman of the Joint Normalization Committee, said the MILF had trained more than 100,000 fighters. 

Most notably, he said most of the firearms were owned by the combatants themselves, and that even when MILF members were towing their buffalos, they kept their guns on hand — just one example of the deep-rooted nature of the decades long civil conflict.

According to Galvez, there were planned rehabilitation programs to transform “combatants and camps into peace-loving individuals and productive, sustainable villages and communities.”

Roman Catholic priest Eliseo Mercado, policy adviser at the Cotabato-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance, cited the importance of the decommissioning process, but said it was less about how many fighters were decommissioned, and more about the building of confidence.

"After decommissioning, where do you put them? It's important for the government to ensure they will not be dislocated. They must have livelihood, have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs, or give them employment in the BARMM. Without this, what will you do with those thousands of people? They will go back to lawlessness," he said.


Court says EU states must label Israeli settlement products

Updated 12 November 2019

Court says EU states must label Israeli settlement products

  • Consumers will be able to make choices based on ethical considerations and those relating to the observance of international law
  • The ECJ ruling effectively backs the EU guidelines issued in 2015 on labelling goods from Israeli-occupied areas

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s top court ruled Tuesday that EU countries must identify products made in Israeli settlements on their labels, in a decision that was welcomed by rights groups but sparked anger in Israel.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that when products come from an Israeli settlement, their labels must provide an “indication of that provenance” so that consumers can make “informed choices” when they shop.
The EU rejects Israeli settlement expansion, saying it undermines the hopes for a two-state solution by gobbling up lands claimed by the Palestinians. Israel says the labeling is unfair and discriminatory and says other countries involved in disputes over land are not similarly sanctioned.
The volume of settlement goods coming into Europe, including olive oil, fruit and wine but also industrial products, is relatively small compared to the political significance of the court ruling. It is estimated to affect about 1% of imports from Israel, which amount to about 15 billion euros ($16.5 billion) a year.
The EU wants any produce made in the settlements to be easily identifiable to shoppers and insists that it must not carry the generic “Made in Israel” tag.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and began settling both areas shortly afterward. The Palestinians claim both areas as parts of a future state, a position that has global support.
The international community opposes settlement construction and they are consider illegal under international law. Their continued growth is seen to undermine the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Today, nearly 700,000 Israelis live in the two areas, almost 10% of the country’s Jewish population.
The ECJ underlined that settlements “give concrete expression to a policy of population transfer conducted by that State outside its territory, in violation of the rules of general international humanitarian law.”
It said any failure to identify the point of origin of produce meant that “consumers have no way of knowing, in the absence of any information capable of enlightening them in that respect, that a foodstuff comes from a locality or a set of localities constituting a settlement established in one of those territories in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law.”
It’s not entirely clear, however, how the ruling will be enforced because the real origin of the produce is not always easy to identify, experts say.
The European Commission said it’s up to individual EU countries to ensure that labels are correct, but that the origin of settlement produce must be made known in a way that is “not misleading to the consumer.”

An Israeli settler prepares olive oil containers at the Achia Olive press factory in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank. (File AFP)

Human Rights Watch welcomed the ruling. The rights watchdog’s EU Director, Lotte Leicht, said it’s “an important step toward EU member states upholding their duty not to participate in the fiction that illegal settlements are part of Israel.”
Oxfam’s director in the Palestinian territories, Shane Stevenson, said settlements “are violating the rights and freedoms of Palestinians” and that “consumers have a right to know the origin of the products they purchase, and the impact these purchases have on people’s lives.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry rejected the ruling, saying it set a “double standard” that unfairly singles out Israel when there are dozens of territorial disputes worldwide.
“The European Court of Justice’s ruling is unacceptable both morally and in principle,” said Foreign Minister Israel Katz. “I intend to work with European foreign ministers to prevent the implementation of this gravely flawed policy.”
The head of the local settler council, Israel Ganz, said the ruling is part of “a double standard that discriminates against Jews living and working in their homeland of thousands of years. This decision will directly hurt the Arab population working at these factories, and manufacturing these products.”
Ganz said he did not expect sales to be hurt as settlement products are of “high standards.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, welcomed the ruling as a “first step” and encouraged Europe to ban settlement products altogether. “If they do not allow these illegal products to enter European soil, then that would really serve the cause of justice,” she said.
The case came to court after an Israeli winery based in a settlement near Jerusalem contested France’s application of a previous ECJ court ruling on the labeling. That ruling had backed the use of origin-identifying tags but did not make them legally binding.
The winery’s director, Yaakov Berg, said “the Winery is proud of its contribution to combating this decision and intends to continue the struggle. We are happy to see the support of all the relevant people in Israel and the United States.”
EU Commission Spokeswoman Mina Andreeva noted that Israel has a special trading relationship with the EU, with products originating in its internationally recognized borders benefiting from preferential tariff treatment.
“This situation will remain unchanged,” she said. “The EU does not support any form of boycott or sanctions against Israel.”
How to do business in or with the Israeli settlements has been a tricky issue for companies before. Airbnb stopped listings there last year, before reversing its decision .