Disarming of MILF starts
KUALA LUMPUR—The difficult process of disarming Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels after a decades-long insurgency has started, negotiators said on Sunday, with the decommissioning of a first batch of firearms expected before yearend.
Philippine government and MILF negotiators started meeting in Malaysia on Saturday to discuss the disarmament process, key to ending the insurgency in Mindanao and enforcing a peace agreement signed by the two sides in March.
The two sides have appointed three foreign experts—from Brunei, Turkey and Norway—to join an independent body that will oversee the decommissioning process, together with four local experts who are yet to be nominated.
“Decommissioning is a delicate and difficult component of any peace settlement. It must be done effectively and sensitively,” chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a statement.
The meeting will continue until Monday.
Chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said earlier that 75 assorted firearms, including high-powered rifles, would be stored and padlocked in a warehouse as part of the “normalization” process that will see the rebels trade their weapons for a chance to join mainstream society.
“Decommissioning firearms is really very difficult, but you have to undertake the ultimate sacrifice just to have the Bangsamoro,” Iqbal said.
Bangsamoro is the proposed expanded autonomous region in Mindanao where the Philippines’ Muslim minority will have self-rule under a pact they signed with President Aquino’s administration in Manila in March.
The peace deal seeks to end four decades of fighting that left tens of thousands killed and stunted development in resource-rich Mindanao.
Ferrer had said that “the first order of business” for the meeting would be for the MILF to submit a list of weapons and combatants.
Military estimates place the strength of the MILF at 10,000. The group has not disclosed the size of its force or the number of weapons in its arsenal.
Decommissioning will be phased, depending on the delivery of government commitments under the peace deal, Iqbal said.
Ferrer said there was enough “goodwill” to push through with normalization after a bill that would grant the country’s Muslim minority self-rule was submitted to Congress earlier this month.
Legislators said the Bangsamoro bill had bipartisan support and would be passed early next year, giving President Aquino time to set up the autonomous Moro government before his term ends in mid-2016.
A special congressional committee has opened hearings on the bill, called Bangsamoro Basic Law.
On Wednesday, Iqbal issued a statement in Davao City giving assurance that the establishment of the new autonomous region would not only end the conflict in Mindanao but also “make the Philippines whole.”
“The conflict has caused untold pain and misery. It has brought poverty and insecurity to our people. It has cost thousands of lives,” said Iqbal, who is also head of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.
But all these difficulties will be dealt with when the Bangsamoro is established, he said.
Iqbal made the same statement on Tuesday at a Senate briefing on the provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
He said the Bangsamoro people “have been kept on the margins of Philippine national life” for decades.
But with the establishment of the new autonomous region, the Bangsamoro people will be empowered and granted the “opportunity to participate as real, active citizens of this country,” he said.
“It will spur this country’s development, as it will become an economic hub in an area adjacent to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. With peace that the Bangsamoro will bring, there will be more investments, more jobs, more education and more opportunities not just for the Bangsamoro but the whole country as well,” Iqbal said.
Iqbal reiterated the MILF’s general line that the Bangsamoro would become the “best antidote to rising radicalism, as it will show that there is space for the Bangsamoro in the Philippines.”
He urged the Senate to approve the draft basic law and “let peace be our lasting legacy.”
“Let us work hard to make it happen,” he said.–With a report from Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao
Originally posted: 3:16 pm | Sunday, September 28th, 2014