Delays in aid to ex-Moro fighters threaten fragile peace in Bangsamoro
COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao, Philippines — An international group warned the long delays in the release of the economic package for decommissioned combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could put at risk the fragile peace in the Bangsamoro region whose people are already suffering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the report, “Southern Philippines: Keeping Normalization on Track in the Bangsamoro,” released on April 15, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that members of the former Moro rebel group who signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, and currently leads the transition government in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), could already be getting impatient over the slow pace of the “normalization,” or the process of integrating them into mainstream communities.
“Ex-rebels are growing impatient with the government’s failure to distribute promised economic packages and over delays in bringing development programs to camps where many of their members live,” said the report released through its website.
It said the essential components of normalization included supplying socioeconomic support to former combatants, deploying peacekeeping teams to boost conflict mitigation efforts, and disbanding private militias.
The peace deal that led to the creation of the BARMM required the disarming of 40,000 former MILF fighters, although the 12,000 combatants decommissioned in 2020 already represented roughly two-thirds of its remaining forces, the report said.
But the group said only “fewer than one-third of the former guerrillas” actually laid down their weapons and “Manila has been slow to distribute to them the economic packages meant to entice them to cooperate.”
The ICG stressed the “urgent” need to fulfill the peace deal’s provisions, with the 2022 elections that will mark the end of the transition period drawing close.
BARMM officials have asked Malacañang and Congress to extend for another three years the transition period that will end next year but there has been no action yet from the national government.
The ICG urged the MILF to move ahead with disarmament’s next phase despite the delays, so as not to fuel discontent.
It warned that the delay in the normalization process may increase the prospects of MILF fighters returning to combat or that other militants may endanger the fledgling BARMM.
“There are plenty of armed groups in the Bangsamoro that might exploit the moment’s fragility. A loss of momentum could also threaten what are currently reasonable peaceful relations among the majority Moro Muslims, Christians, and other ethnoreligious groups,” it said.
Naguib Sinarimbo, head of the Bangsamoro Ministry of the Interior and Local Government who also sits in the Joint Normalization Committee of the government-MILF Peace Architecture, confirmed there was dissatisfaction among MILF members due to delays in the implementation of socioeconomic packages.
But he assured this would not escalate into the former fighters bearing arms again.
“Those are legitimate grievances that we are working on and there is no indication our members will be joining other armed groups,” Sinarimbo said. INQ
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