Ex-Muslim Mindanao rebels to complete final arms decommissioning this month

Mark Navales and Froilan Gallardo
Cotabato City, Philippines
Ex-Muslim Mindanao rebels to complete final arms decommissioning this month Military and police personnel guard the entrance to the parliamentary compound of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Cotabato City, southern Philippines, Sept. 15, 2022.
[Mark Navales/BenarNews]

Former separatist insurgents in the southern Philippines are scheduled in late September to complete the final phase in decommissioning thousands of their firearms as part of a peace deal with the central government, their leader announced Thursday.

Murad Ebrahim (also known as Ahod Balawag Ebrahim) made the announcement during the opening of parliamentary sessions in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, as the Philippines’ new leader visited the region and also addressed BARRM lawmakers.  

The final decommissioning is scheduled for Sept. 28 and covers about 5,500 combatants and some 2,400 weapons surrendered by the former guerrillas, Murad said.

“We are committed to sustain the momentum and the trust you have given us,” Murad said at the ceremony in the presence of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“The past three years have not been easy. But through our collective efforts and guidance from Allah, we were able to accomplish significant milestones that we can all be proud of, Mr. President,” Murad said, addressing Marcos in his speech.

Murad, who heads the region’s transitional authority, is the head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former armed separatist group which signed a peace deal with Manila eight years ago.

The pact ended the front’s decades-old insurgency, but it also stipulated that the former rebels must surrender their thousands of weapons for decommissioning.

The process was supposed to have been completed in three phases, beginning in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted it.

So far, more than 5,000 firearms owned by MILF guerrillas have been decommissioned, according to government figures. The Philippine defense department earlier estimated that there were around 40,000 firearms in the hands of the former guerrillas.

Under the decommissioning process, each former combatant who hands over weapons is expected to receive a cash payment, including funds for education. Each combatant was to receive about U.S. $2,400 in cash assistance in exchange for a weapon.

Policemen in riot gear guard the road leading to the compound of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority in southern Cotabato city, the Philippines, ahead of a visit by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Sept. 15, 2022. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]

Despite not supporting the Marcos administration in the May general election, Murad assured President Marcos of his cooperation and support.

“You will have our full support and together we will make the successful implementation of the Bangsamoro peace process as one of your greatest legacies,” he said addressing Marcos.

Murad had blamed Marcos’ namesake father and the military under the late dictator of ransacking Muslim areas and massacring entire communities. Thousands of people died and disappeared under the iron-fisted rule of President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who governed the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, including 14 years under martial law.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was formed, in part, to fight these alleged atrocities, while also seeking independence. In Mindanao, a heavily Muslim southern region of the mainly Catholic Philippines, Marcos Jr. is viewed as an extension of his father’s regime

‘Historical justice, progress, peace’

For his part, Marcos assured the people of his full and unwavering support in the peace process.

“As your president, I assure you, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, and all the Bangsamoro people of this administration’s full and unwavering commitment to the peace process .... This is why we are steadfast to our commitment to the peace process here in southern Philippines,” Marcos said, speaking at the plenary.

“The path to lasting peace is always under construction. But we walk this path together. And we walk not because it’s an easy one. We walk this path together because even with its difficulties, we know that at the end of the journey is historical justice, progress, peace, stability, and the unity that the people in our nation have longest aspired for,” he added.

Marcos said his administration would push for socio-economic development and intervention to promote peace and development in areas affected by decades of conflict.

“I encourage the BTA to pass measures that will secure the welfare of the people, particularly in health care, fisheries, transportation, digital infrastructure and e-governance,” he said.

Meanwhile, the MILF leadership had also invited Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which the MILF split in 1978, to attend Thursday’s session.

The MNLF signed its own peace pact with the government in 1996 and Misuari subsequently became governor of the Muslim autonomous region. The pact however was considered a failure by the government with many areas mired in poverty despite millions of dollars poured into the area.

Misuari would later again rebel against the government, and lay siege to southern Zamboanga City in 2013, leaving more than 200 people dead.

When Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, took office in 2016, he cleared Misuari of rebellion charges in a bid to further quell Muslim dissatisfaction.

On Thursday, Misuari stood on the same stage with Murad, and the two grizzled former fighters hugged one another in front of Marcos, whose late dictator father and namesake was the rebels’ former enemy.

“We reached out to MNLF as we vowed to work together for united Bangsamoro,” Murad said.

“We may have differences in terms of strategies and means but at the end of the day, we are bound with our common goal and ultimately our faith.” 

Attack in Basilan

Meanwhile in another part of the southern Philippines, a group of unidentified gunmen attacked an army detachment on Thursday afternoon in a remote area of Basilan island, leading to a firefight that left three soldiers dead, the military said.

Reports from the Joint Task Force Basilan said the armed men, allegedly led by Abaas Jankatan, attacked the unit of the 18th Infantry Battalion located at an area called Hill 510 at about 1:20 p.m.

It was not immediately known whether there were any casualties among the attackers.

Basilan is the birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf, the smallest but most vicious of armed Muslim groups in the south. Other groups, including armed gangs of local politicians, also operate in the area.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Davao City, and a BenarNews correspondent in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, contributed to this report.


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