The Philippines has decommissioned thousands of firearms controlled by former Muslim separatist guerrillas in the south as part of a historic peace deal, the country’s defense chief said, adding the entire process of silencing their weapons is to be completed by 2022.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in a presentation to fellow cabinet members on Wednesday, said 12,000 or about 30 percent of the estimated 40,000 firearms estimated to be held by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been recovered.
He lauded the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) because he said it has led to peace in the south and the election of former MILF guerrillas to lead a transitional authority that would govern its own areas.
“Part of the organic law is the decommissioning of the MILF combatants,” Lorenzana said referring to the Bangsamoro Organic Law which paved the way for the BARMM. “Thirty percent of them have already been decommissioned and the remaining 70 percent will be decommissioned in the next two years.”
Those efforts are expected to eventually lead to partnerships within their own community and with the government or other countries ahead of realizing the MILF’s dream of self-rule, Lorenzana said.
The phased handover of weapons is part of the peace deal with the government that led to the establishment of BARMM. Each combatant who hands over weapons is expected to receive a cash payment, including money for education.
In September 2019, more than 1,000 former MILF forces turned in their weapons during a decommissioning ceremony that occurred hours after a bomb attack injured eight people at a Southern Philippine marketplace.
Other groups blamed for attacks
Philippine military officials blamed members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for the bombing at a market in Isulan, a town in Sultan Kudarat province. The BIFF splintered from MILF and aligned with the Islamic State (IS).
Agakhan Sharief, a local Muslim leader, said that despite MILF’s peace agreement, pro-IS groups including BIFF and Abu Sayyaf continue to launch attacks against government forces in the south.
Sharief served as a negotiator at the height of five-month battle when Abu Sayyaf members and other militants took over the city of Marawi in May 2017. He said the government’s decommissioning approach has not been effective.
“A rebel will surrender his old gun in exchange for money. After receiving the money, he will buy a new weapon. It does not make sense,” Sharief told BenarNews.
The MILF split from the larger Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1978 after the latter dropped its fight for independence. The MNLF signed a peace deal in 1996 and was awarded a self-rule region which the government called a “failed experiment.”
The government later looked at including MILF in peace negotiations and the MNLF group fractured into smaller groups which would become the forerunners of present day militants in the region.
Filipino security analyst Rommel Banlaoi told BenarNews on Thursday that the MILF’s decommissioning is an essential part of the peace agreement to transform combatants from armed fighters to peace builders.
“The decommissioning process can only be successful in building lasting peace in Mindanao if there is dismantlement of private armed groups, common in BARMM,” said Banlaoi, who heads the Philippine Institute for Peace Violence and Terrorism Research.