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

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

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.