MILF decommissioning fighters starting January

MANILA — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has agreed to start the decommissioning of its estimated 11,000 fully armed combatants and weapons by January, 2015.

However, ammunitions are not covered by the decommissioning in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel in the peace process with the Government of the Philippines (GPH), revealed this yesterday. He said the decommissioning in January is a symbolic event to be held most probably in Maguindanao to demonstrate the MILF’s goodwill and commitment as embodied in the CAB. Iqbal said the ceremonial decommissioning covers 75 weapons, 25 of which are high-powered.

Another MILF leader, who declined to be named, said the symbolic turnover in January covers 75 weapons and over 100 combatants.

“We will be decommissioning 75 weapons and over 100 fighters because there are some arms that are crew-served,” the source said.

He explained that “crew-served” means there are weapons that cannot be handled by one person, such as a .50 caliber machine gun and small artillery weapons, indicating that these are included in the 20 to 25 high-powered arms out of the 75 to be decommissioned.

“Of course, decommissioning includes weapons and combatants,” he said, adding that the decommissioning involves four phases, with the last phase to be done after the planned Bangsamoro police force shall have been formed, functioning, and well-established.

But Iqbal said the symbolic turnover is not tied up with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Iqbal, Secretary Teresita Q. Deles, and members of the international community were at the launch yesterday in Mandaluyong City of a 52-page primer on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to make easily understandable in a reader-friendly rendition done by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Deles explained that the decommissioning is not a surrender of the MILF’s arms, which will be kept in a place still being decided.

“There is no military victory here. Therefore, it is an agreement, a settlement, a mutually negotiated agreement, and agreed upon settlement. Therefore, it is in partnership with each other,” she said.

Deles cited the importance of a third party in the decommissioning through the International Decommissioning Body (IDB), to validate, for example, how many weapons and combatants were decommissioned.

“We want a third party, a strong third party. When they say that so many weapons were turned over, they will not have any other agenda except to ensure the decommissioning process is happening as agreed upon, putting the weapons to use,” she said.

It was recalled that the GPH and MILF signed the CAB last March 27, which serves as their final peace agreement after 17 long years of on-and-off and often intractable negotiations marked by an all-out war and all-out offensive launched by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in 2001 and 2003 and many more bloody, bodies-strewn stretches of internecine conflict – brother Filipinos against brother Filipinos.

The CAB contains the Annexes on Transitional Mechanisms and Modalities; Wealth-sharing, and Revenue-generation; Power-sharing; and Normalization.

Normalization contains the MILF’s decommissioning of its estimated 11,000 fully-armed combatants.