August 23, 2019
CURRENT AFFAIRS

Previously ‘Unthinkable,’ MILF Members Now Live and Train Under Military Officers

By ANDY OROBIA

CAMP LUCERO, Carmen, North Cotabato — From enemy of the State to defenders of land.

This is the journey, which was decades-long and borne of a tortuous path, of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which struggled and fought for Mindanao’s independence in a bloody and internecine war starting in the 1970s.

Past forward to the present.

The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed in 2014 has turned them into partners in peace of the Government of the Philippines (GPH).

President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and its ratification this year have rounded out the process, though it is still an ongoing one.

Part of the process is for 225 ex-combatants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) now undergoing training in this military camp and reside for 30 days.

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MILF members undergoing training for the Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST).

The leadership of 602nd Brigade at Camp Lucero will subject them to a standard military training which began on August 1 to prepare them as members of the Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST).

For the JPST, it will be composed of 1,400 soldiers, 1,600 policemen, and 3,000 BIAF members, which turn will be divided into 200 smaller teams of seven soldiers, eight policemen, and 15 BIAF men who will serve as community security force during the decommissioning process.

The training was designed to pave the way for the BIAF combatants to be enlisted in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or  Philippine National Police (PNP) and be part of maintaining peace and security in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Carlito G. Galvez, Jr, cited the training’s significance.

“Today’s event is the manifestation of our desire to sustain the peace process and our commitment to implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) for the full implementation of the peace agreement,” he said before the MILF trainees.

According to Galvez, 200 JPST members shall serve as the security forces to ensure the safety of residents within the six government-acknowledged MILF camps and other identified MILF communities during the decommissioning process which officially begins on September 7.

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MILF trainees salute the Philippine flag at Camp Lucero, Carmen, North Cotabato.

armen, North Cotabato.On the other hand, Minister Dickson Hermoso, a former AFP officer, now head of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (BARMM-MOTC), clarified that only members of the AFP and the PNP are allowed to carry guns, but there is a way for the MILF who are members of the JPST.

“The military and the police are the only ones allowed to carry firearms,” the BARMM minister said.

“After this basic military training they will be given military ranks as reservist so they could officially bring their weapons as members of JPST as peacekeepers,” Hermoso, co-chairman of the GPH-JPST said.

The said training and decommissioning process is co-authored by Hermoso and his co-chair Von Al Haq, who happens to be his deputy minister at the BARMM-MOTC.

“Their personal firearms as part of JPST will be turned over to the AFP as property of government during the training and the same will be issued to them when they will be deployed to maintain peace and security in areas that have been mutually identified by the GPH and the MILF,” Hermoso explained.

The teams will serve until the BARMM interim government ends in 2022.

BARMM Interim Chief Minister Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim, head of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) said in a statement, thru his representative:

“Many years ago this type of event was simply unimaginable. No one ever thought that the MILF combatants will ever be in a military camp, to undertake a military training.

“But many previously unimaginable things have already happened and are actually happening now right before our eyes. The MILF has taken the mantle of leadership over the Bangsamoro Government in partnership with the government of the Republic of the Philippines.”

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The 1st Batch of 12,000 BIAF MILF will be the first 30% of the total MILF 40,000 forces to be decommissioned in 3 tranches. The next 2 batches will be 35% of BIAF members each.

BARMM Environment and Natural Resources Minister Abdulraof A. Macacua, who is also the BIAF chief of staff, reminded the MILF trainees about military discipline.

“I hope that all your struggles will not be shattered by this training. You need to follow orders because you are now in the hands of your (military) training officers.

“Whatever rules and disciplinary actions in this training, you have to follow,” Macacua ordered his BIAF men.

Duterte and other top cabinet and security officials will be witnessing the launching of the decommissioning process on September 7 to demonstrate his full support to the Normalization process in the Bangsamoro.

The decommissioning process is part of the CAB’s Normalization Track’s goal of putting MILF fighters and their weapons beyond use, and enabling them to achieve their desired quality of life through sustainable livelihood and political participation in a peaceful and deliberative society. (AO)

Mark Navales 1 a Mark Navales

All photographs by Photo-journalist Mark Navales of Central Mindanao, who contributes to international wire agencies and national and local publications.

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