MILF fighters sent to frontline of war on COVID-19 in Bangsamoro region | Inquirer News
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MILF fighters sent to frontline of war on COVID-19 in Bangsamoro region

/ 10:27 PM October 20, 2020

File photos show MILF combatants in formation at Camp Darapanan, MILF’s biggest camp, in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. BONG SARMIENTO

KORONADAL CITY—Former combatants of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are fighting a war no longer against the government but an invisible enemy called the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Raissa Jajurie, minister for social services of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), armed wing of MILF, had been tapped to help the regional government stop the spread of SARS Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and help people suffering from the pandemic’s impact.

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BIAF members, said Jajurie, “are being helpful to us.” She said it was the BIAF that is helping secure quarantine facilities for stranded individuals returning to BARMM.

Jajurie lauded MILF fighters for performing this role at the recent online launch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) project to combat COVID-19 in the region which received a P50 million grant from the United Kingdom government.

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She said that last July, the BIAF converted part of Camp Darapanan—MILF ‘s sprawling headquarters in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao—as quarantine facility for stranded people returning to their hometowns in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and who landed in Cagayan de Oro City aboard a ship from Manila.

The BARMM government fetched at least 400 stranded individuals from Cagayan de Oro and brought them to Maguindanao and Cotabato City for a 14-day quarantine.

It was only after the people completed their quarantine period and tested negative for coronavirus that they were allowed to return to their home provinces.

It was also the BIAF which helped send back stranded individuals to Zamboanga City and other provinces by boat, Jajurie said.

Aside from providing security, BIAF members also helped distribute relief goods to communities locked down by quarantine restrictions, Jajurie said.

Last April and May, BIAF members were instrumental in distributing cash grants from the Social Amelioration Program of the national government for COVID-19 especially in remote areas that are still MILF bailiwicks.

For at least 50 years, MILF waged war on the government to establish an independent Islamic state in Mindanao. The Moro conflict had claimed the lives of at least 120,000 people, including civilians, and ended in March 2014 after the signing of a peace agreement with the government, known as Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

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In 2019, the BARMM, main product of the CAB, replaced the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao following the ratification of Republic Act No. 11054, or the Bangsamoro Organic Act.

In September 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte led the second phase of the decommissioning of MILF forces which involved 12,000 combatants. Another 35 percent of the 40,000-strong MILF will be decommissioned during the third phase set this year. The rest of MILF fighters will be processed until 2022 for the expected signing of the exit agreement between the government and the MILF.

Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, stressed the need for unity to combat the spread of COVID-19, a disease he described as the “biggest crisis humanity faces during this century.”

“In a region that has its own share of humanitarian emergencies, nothing can compare to the uncertainty brought about by this pandemic,” he said.

He said he had seen “indescribable tragedies” in various communities during his lifetime but expressed confidence that the new Bangsamoro region could hurdle this health emergency.

One of the major challenges facing the BARMM government in dealing with COVID-19 is the geographic characteristic of the area, said Mohd Asnin Pendatun, BARMM Cabinet secretary and concurrent spokesperson of the BARMM Inter-agency Task Force on COVID-19.

BARMM covers the mainland provinces of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, where MILF has loyal followers.

Pendatun said the fight against COVID-19 in the island-provinces had been beset by lack of testing capabilities by local government units.

Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing is being done in a lab in Zamboanga City, which takes time, since the city also faces a surge in COVID-19 cases, Pendatun said.

In Tawi-Tawi and Sulu provinces, however, two GeneXpert machines have been deployed to be used for RT-PCR testing and local health workers are just waiting to be trained in using them, Pendatun said.

He said internet connectivity in the island provinces is also a problem in delivering COVID-19 information to remote communities.

“As we continue the battle against COVID-19, we see that our challenges continue to evolve but we’ve been adjusting to it and directly address the challenges in those parts of the region,” he said.

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TAGS: #COVID19PH, Autonomy, BARMM, combatants, MILF, Muslim, Regions
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