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DECOMMISSIONING OF GUNS, FIGHTERS

MILF begins difficult transformation—rebel chief

/ 01:54 PM June 16, 2015
MILF fighters for decommissioning

145 members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces will start to transition to productive civilian life today. Photo from OPAPP Twitter account

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders described it as part of transformation and not surrender.

Either way, the much-anticipated ceremonial decommissioning of MILF weapons and forces pushed through here on Tuesday, personally witnessed by President Aquino and members of the international community.

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A busload of MILF combatants arrived at the old Maguindanao Capitol grounds here for the rites.

Seventy-five weapons, 50 of them high-powered and 25 small firearms, were symbolically turned over by the MILF to the Turkish-led Independence Decommissioning Body.

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Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, described the decommissioning as a “very difficult” decision which signified their sincerity in complying with agreements they signed with the government of President Benigno Aquino III.

Not surrender

For the MILF, it was not surrender but a part of the normalization process, Iqbal said.

“If you look at the (MILF) struggle, it’s about arming ourselves,” he said. “Now, it’s decommissioning. It’s a difficult decision to make but part of the overall and comprehensive peacemaking in Mindanao.”

Iqbal said the turnover of their weapons was not a loss but a gain for the MILF.

“It shows that MILF is a force that can be trusted because we comply with our agreement,” he said, adding that “if you want peace, prepare for peace; the symbolic turnover is the MILF’s first step to prepare for peace.”

Iqbal said people would think that firearms were the source of the MILF’s strength. In reality, however, its strength is the love, affection and faith of the Bangsamoro people.

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“The Bangsamoro people are the beginning and the end of our struggle,” Iqbal said at the turnover ceremony.

Long walk to transformation’

For his part, MILF chair Murad Ebrahim said: “Today, we begin the long walk to transformation, not surrender. (This is) the start of (the) transformation of MILF from (an) armed organization to (a) political organization ready to serve the Bangsamoro people.”

He said the decommissioning also signaled the start for the MILF’s shift to self-governance.

“This symbolic decommissioning signals the start of an old arrangement and control toward partnership of autonomy,” he said.

“We proclaim our commitment to peace not by words but by action,” Murad said.

It was not even a sign of weakness on the part of the MILF as propagated by some groups, he said.

“This is to show the MILF is sincere in attaining peace for the Bangsamoro people.”

BBL based on CAB

He also said the MILF position on the BBL was clear: “We will accept the BBL which is in compliance with the FAB (Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro) and CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro).”

“This is the official position of the MILF central committee,” he added.

Ebrahim thanked President Aquino and all those who contributed to the success of the Mindanao peace process.

“We thank the President for his continued support to the Midnanao peace process, third party facilitator, international communities and all who contributed to (its),” he said.

Basilan-based MILF commander Hadji Laksaw Dan Asnawi said it was difficult for most of them to let go of their firearms, but they had to move on.

Asnawi said it was hard to be “separated from a long-time companion,” referring to their firearms.

“The Moro adage that the firearm is more important than a wife is no longer true. What is more important for us now is the future of our family,” said the commander of the 114th MILF Base Command.

Guns in working condition

All 75 firearms handed over by the MILF were “whole and in working condition,” according to retired Army Gen. Rey Ardo, the head of government’s decommissioning body.

Ardo said the firearms turned over included 50-caliber Barret sniper rifles and mortars.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who arrived ahead of President Aquino, said he hoped that more disarmament rites would follow.

In a statement, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles said she was confident that the start of the decommissioning process would have a “positive effect on the legislative process” on the proposed BBL.

“We are just awaiting the eventual passage of the BBL, the establishment of the Bangsamoro government, and the election of its leaders in order for the full decommissioning of the MILF to push through,” Deles said.

Phased decommissioning

Under the CAB, the full decommissioning process will take place with the passage of the BBL. As soon as the law was passed, the MILF would deactivate 30 percent of its combatants and their weapons turned over.

After the plebiscite for the BBL, the MILF will again decommission 35 percent of its forces and weapons. The remaining forces and weapons will be decommissioned when the Bangsamoro government starts functioning.

“We are happy the MILF continues to be a partner of the government in its objective to bring peace in Mindanao through the reduction of firearms in the area despite the delays in the BBL passage,” Deles said.

Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said President Aquino’s third visit to the region was most symbolic.

“This is the act of peace, the show of sincerity in the peace process, that we have all been waiting for from the MILF and the government,” Hataman said.

Hataman said the decommissioning would transform MILF rebels from being soldiers of war into soldiers of food production as they “beat swords to ploughshares.”

“As soldiers (they) will begin to bring life to the land instead of taking from it,” he said.

Hataman said mothers would now also “begin to send their children to school again without fear, and welcome them home happily.”

“Today, children will start learning to be children, and hope never to learn about war again,” he said.

Germelina Lacorte, Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Señase and Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: decommissioning, Hadji Laksaw Dan Asnawi, MILF, Mohagher Iqbal, Murad Ebrahim, peace process
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