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MILF to be given Philhealth cards, socio-economic services

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MANILA, Philippines—Can you imagine Murad Ebrahim, the battle-hardened Moro rebel leader, flashing a Philhealth card? It’s not far-fetched.

Beginning next week, Ebrahim and former fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will begin enjoying socio-economic services, including membership in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., as part of the government’s goodwill gesture toward achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.

President Benigno Aquino III is launching a socio-economic initiative, addressing the health, livelihood and educational needs of Bangsamoro communities, this coming Monday, at the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao.

As a follow-up to the October 2012 preliminary framework agreement for the Bangsamoro entity, the Aquino administration is rolling out the socio-economic services for the former rebel group within the next one and a half years.

The deal provides, among others, the creation of the Bangsamoro entity with greater political and economic powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Both camps hoped to sign a comprehensive peace agreement next month.

The socio-economic programs are being implemented in the context of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro, which recognizes that development is crucial to “sustainable peace,’’ and decommissioning the MILF entailed providing alternatives for a “more productive life,’’ according to Secretary Teresita Deles.

“I think both parties have agreed that the Bangsamoro and particularly those who have fought and are coming into the Framework Agreement will not have to wait 2016 to feel the impact of the peace that is being built now,’’ the presidential adviser on the peace process said in a Malacañang briefing.

The initiative has called “Sajahatra Bangsamoro,’’ an Arabic-Melayu-Bahasa derivative that meant blessing, prosperity and peace, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras said.

“It truly is representative for what this project is about,’’ he said in the joint briefing. He said the beneficiaries – the former rebels – had no access to such services.

“They were not part of mainstream. They were located in areas purposely to be away from government, away from us. Now they are coming down to be with us and now we are going to provide them with the services that everyone else has been enjoying anyway,’’ he said.

Under the program, the ex-fighters and their families would be covered by health insurance under the PhilHealth, and the community-based health services would be upgraded by the Department of Health, Almendras said.

“Some of them will now become members of Philhealth. So there will be a symbolic turnover of a Philhealth card to the chairman himself [during the launch],’’ he said, referring to Ebrahim.

In the afternoon, the DoH will hold a medical mission for some 300 people, coming from different MILF communities in Mindanao.

The Commission on Higher Education will grant college scholarships, while the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority will provide technical and vocational training. The Department of Education will extend assistance to madaris, or Islamic schools.

“We will be distributing certificates of scholarships to those who have finished high school and will be joining the university ranks. CHEd will be distributing the few hundred scholarship grants to Muslims students who will be joining the state universities and colleges in Mindanao,’’ Almendras said.

“TESDA will be offering training programs and in the afternoon, they will have a demonstration of some basic skills and training that will be needed to help some of the members of MILF who have been detached from mainstream society come back to more productive activity,’’ he added.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development will assess the needs of selected Bangsamoro communities, and offer cash for work program.

The Department of Agriculture would distribute seeds and introduce planting technology to prospective tillers in the Bangsamoro territory, Almendras said.

The bureaucracy, including key Cabinet officials, will show up at the launch in a “very big scale,’’ according to Almendras.

The MILF delegation will be headed by Ebrahim and peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal. Malaysian facilitator Tengku Dato Ab’Ghafar Tengku bin Mohammed and Malaysian head of secretariat Che Khasna were invited.

“The MILF organization will be there. Field commanders will be there. Some combatants will be there. We have also invited the Chief of Staff, the head of the Army, the head of the Air Force. Actually that is my problem, my problem is the grounds of the BLMI is not big enough to accommodate all the people who would want to come. I am talking about dignitaries,’’ Almendras said.

Definitely no guns would be allowed at the venue, “right smack in the center of the MILF camp,’’ Almendras said.

“In the past two weeks, both the government organizations mainly the Presidential Security Group, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, everybody has just been working together to find a way to bring it together into a situation where the place is going to be safe for all of us. We will be going there,’’ he said.

To prevent giving the event any partisan color, no senatorial candidate has been invited, he said.

After Monday’s launch, the government will mount a caravan, and hop from one Bangsamoro community to another, offering the same services and programs, in partnership with the MILF.

“We will not stop there, we will be going to other locations in Mindanao and we will be doing the same thing. The idea is for all of the people in Mindanao, former rebels to begin to feel the presence of the services of the national government,’’ Almendras said.

Officials could not give a figure on the cost, but said this would be taken from the individual budgets of departments providing the services.

“The reason why we cannot give you an amount yet is because the numbers are not set. The very nature of the discussions with the former rebel groups is they have never given us their exact numbers and details and all that. And slowly this is coming through,’’ Almendras said.

Eventually, everything would be finalized, but the services would not be limited to the MILF alone, he said.

“We are going to be ready for anyone else who wants to join. The idea is Sajahatra Bangsamoro is not about exclusivity, it is about inclusivity. It is not about saying this is just for this group,’’ Almendras said.

Deles said this was just the start, and the bigger program would come after the signing of the peace agreement.

After the signing of the FAB, the President called Almendras, Deles and other Cabinet officials to a meeting, and indicated he wanted a socio-economic program for the MILF.

“This is not a whim; this is not a sudden thing. This was very well-thought of plan. The President himself has been pushing this from the very beginning,’’ Almendras said.

Meanwhile, the government and the MILF were ironing out the details of the annexes of the FAB for eventual signing of the comprehensive agreement in March, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said.

“This initiative is certainly a very important confidence building measure leading to the signing of the comprehensive agreement,’’ she said of the program.

The shortlist of proposed members of the transition commission that would draft the Bangsamoro basic law is now being reviewed by the President.


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