General Santos City, Philippines- President Aquino is set today to lead officials of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the first part of the neutralizing of crew-served weapons and high-powered firearms in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. Both sides are saying there is no turning back on peace.
The MILF will undertake the registration and “turning in” of 75 weapons to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) through simple ceremonies to be held at the old provincial capitol in Sultan Kudarat. Also, 145 combatants will be registered and processed to formally initiate their return to full civilian lives.
After the decommissioning of weapons, it will be conveyed to the weapons storage area located inside Camp Iranun (Abubakar) in Sitio Bombaran, Barangay Tugaig in Barira, Maguindanao as mutually agreed upon.
According to Ferrer, “The secured area will be monitored by 30 members of the Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST) who will be supervised by the Joint Verification and Monitoring Team (JVMT) of the IDB.”
The JVMT is supervised by an independent foreign expert with a member each from the government and MILF.
Three JVMTs will take turns running the site round the clock. Meanwhile, the JPST is consists of 15 members from the government army and police, and an equal number from the MILF.
Teams of 10 JPST persons each will be on guard duty at all times.
Ferrer said they also had to agree on some protocols to guide the decommissioning.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) will be playing an important role in the decommissioning of firearms and weapons.
PNP officer-in charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said the PNP has designated three police commissioned officers who will assist the four-member IDB that shall oversee the process of decommissioning of MILF forces and weapons.
Chief Insps. Randall-Lyon Bueno, Filmore Abdulsalam Calib and Christopher Muego will form part of the JVMT.
“By (today) we will have one of the big steps taken by the government and the MILF towards lasting peace. The PNP will be participating by deploying its components in the joint peace and security teams,” said PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Wilfredo Franco.
Ferrer said the decommissioning should have taken place in late January or early February but the Mamasapano incident occurred and she added in an interview over radio dzBB on Sunday that this first phase of decommissioning was further delayed by military operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for almost two months.
Despite the delay in the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the decommissioning is a go. The said event is being perceived as a substantial step in the quest of lasting peace in Mindanao.
It is also said that the decommissioning not only fosters mutual trust, but is also unprecedented in itself according to Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
Lacierda said that “no other armed organization in conflict with the Philippine government has voluntarily agreed to turn over its weapons as part of a peace agreement part from the MILF.” With this, we remain optimistic that the future will bring more positive developments, cognizant that – together with our brothers and sisters in Mindanao – we can achieve peace and inclusive prosperity through unity.”
Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said, “As you can see, the point of the MILF leadership is they want to stay the course of peace. That’s why we’re giving it our best shot,”
Pnoy’s term is about to end so if peace negotiations would not be accomplished within this administration, at least they would not be accused of neglect because they have pushed for everything, “even on all the other components like decommissioning.” she added.
The agreement between the government and the MILF is to carry out the ceremonial turnover of 75 weapons of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) as part of phase one of the normalization program for the Muslim rebels under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
On the other hand, Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, described the decommissioning process as “one of the most difficult decisions (of the) MILF.” He said that “for the sake of peace, for the sake of having real peace in Mindanao and for the sake of the need for normalization (of) the lives of the people including the combatants, we have to undertake decommissioning and put them (arms) beyond use.”
The President will hand out P25,000 cash to the initial batch of 145 Muslim rebels. This will serve as an assistance for education, training and livelihood to help them start normal lives.
The turnover ceremonies will likewise be attended by MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, members of both peace panels and other stakeholders.
Legislators from both chambers of Congress, the international community among others were also invited to witness the historic event at the Old Maguindanao provincial capitol in Simuay Crossing.