Philippines Resumes Process to Decommission Ex-Rebels’ Guns

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
2021.11.10
Cotabato, Philippines
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Philippines Resumes Process to Decommission Ex-Rebels’ Guns An official checks dozens of guns turned over by former Muslim rebels as part of a decommissioning process in Sultan Kudarat, a town in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, July 9, 2019.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

The Philippines has resumed the decommissioning of thousands of firearms turned in by ex-Muslim separatist rebels in the south as part of a peace deal with Manila, after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the process, officials said Wednesday. 

Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels signed a peace agreement with the central government in 2014, ending their long-running separatist insurgency in the Mindanao region. Former MILF officials today head a transitional government in an autonomous region (BAARM), which came about through the agreement. The deal also stipulated that the group’s ex-fighters would surrender their weapons for decommissioning.    

A second phase of the process took place in February 2020, but it was disrupted soon after by the onset of the vital outbreak in the Philippines, officials said. A fresh round that aims to gather and put out of military service 14,000 guns surrendered by former MILF fighters began last weekend, Von Al Haq, a spokesman for the group, told BenarNews. 

“We thank the government for complying with the agreement. I can say that what we agreed was not only in paper,” said Al Haq, the autonomous region’s minister for transportation and communications, referring to the clause in the peace accord about the surrender and decommissioning of weapons possessed by the ex-guerrillas.

The MILF had said there were some 40,000 ex-fighters with weapons, although security experts and analysts believe the group has more troops and weapons.

In September, Carlito Galvez Jr., the presidential advisor on the peace process, told a Senate committee that only about 12,000 MILF weapons had been handed over and decommissioned.

According to the peace deal, the transitional government in BAARM was to be replaced in free and open elections in 2022 to coincide with the Philippines’ presidential polls. But the MILF pushed for those polls to be deferred, saying the pandemic had delayed many reform programs while security forces were also struggling to contain militancy.

Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law granting the MILF’s request to postpone the regional election.

ex-MILF.jpg
A former MILF guerrilla receives cash in exchange for turning in his weapon as part of a decommissioning program by the Philippine government, Nov. 8, 2021. [Handout/Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process]

Under the decommissioning process, each former combatant who hands over weapons is expected to receive a cash payment, including money for education.

Restituto Macuto, regional director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said the central government agency would be distributing assistance for each decommissioned combatant worth 80,000 Philippine pesos (about U.S. $2,000), under the Bangsamoro Transitory Family Support Package, and another 20,000 pesos ($400), through the Livelihood Settlement Grant.

“While we are delayed due to pandemic, still the government fulfilled its promises for the people,” Macuto said.

Undersecretary David Diciano, chairman of the Philippine Government Peace Implementing Panel, told reporters that the government was determined to implement all of the provisions in the peace agreement “for the full transformation of the combatants and their communities in the Bangsamoro.”

“The normalization, including the process of decommissioning, is and always has been a joint effort between the GPH [Government of the Philippines] and the MILF,” he said.

Philippine authorities in the past have said that the decommissioning process was slow because of the pandemic and the former guerrillas’ reluctance to give up their weapons amid ongoing threats and attacks from Islamic State group-linked militants and disgruntled factions that broke away from MILF.

Mohagher Iqbal, the education minister in the autonomous region and chairman of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel, stressed the importance of working alongside partners in implementing the agreements.

He called the third phase of decommissioning “a critical component of the normalization process.”

“We are grateful that the peace process is enforced by robust partnership and commitment by stakeholders. I thank our local and international partners for the unwavering support,” he said in a statement.

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