MILF chief: Decommissioning ‘deeply personal,’ not just statistics

Angela Casauay
This is not propaganda, says MILF chief Murad Ebrahim. It's proof that it is ready to begin its transformation to a political organization.

MORE THAN STATISTICS. MILF guerrillas turn over firearms to an independent body on Tuesday, June 16. Photo by Rappler

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (UPDATED) – Facing 145 of his combatants who have just committed to return to civilian life, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Murad Ebrahim said the symbolic turnover of 75 rebel firearms on Tuesday, June 16, might not mean much to others but it is “deeply personal” to the MILF. 

“As I look at the face of each of our 145 brothers here, I see 145 stories of struggle, of pain, of hopelessness and even of death,” Murad said. 

“Yet I also see 145 stories of hope and faith, and that indeed, peace is near and all of the sacrifices have been worth it,” he added. 

Murad shared the stage with President Benigno Aquino III in a historic event that marks the beginning of a long and staggered process to deactivate MILF firearms as part of the peace deal signed in March 2014. 

A total of 55 high-powered firearms and 20 crew-serve weapons were turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body. They will be stored in the MILF’s former bastion, Camp Abubakar – now known as Camp Iranun of the 603rd army brigade – and guarded by a joint team from the government and the MILF. 

TURNED OVER. Some of the high-powered weapons turned over by the MILF to an independent body on June 16. Photo by Rappler

The next phases will depend on whether the Bangsamoro basic law will be passed. The MILF agreed to decommission their firearms in exchange for the creation of a new autonomous region in Mindanao with greater powers and resources. 

But the legislative process faced a roadblock after the Mamasapano tragedy, which killed 67 Filipinos, eroded support and cast doubts on the sincerity of the MILF. 

Murad acknowledged questions raised about the timing of the event. After all, the BBL has yet to pass in Congress.

But for the MILF, the first phase of the decommissioning is “concrete” proof that it is committed to the peace process and begin its transformation from a revolutionary group to a political organization.

“We want to see this as a positive sign. Some people will be diverting again – they will see this as mere propaganda but the MILF has undertaken this will full sincerity in order to push the peace process forward,” Murad said in an ambush interview with reporters. (READ: MILF dares anti-BBL sectors: Choose peace, freedom)

No surrender

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said it was difficult at first to convince the first batch of combatants to undergo decommissioning.

“Decommissioning is one step away from surrendering. There is a fine line between decommissioning and surrendering,” Iqbal explained. 

Iqbal said they were able to convince the MILF that decommissioning will not be tantamount to surrender but will only signify a desire to return to mainstream life. 

No BBL, no decommissioning

Under the peace deal, the next batch of MILF firearms (30%) will be turned over to the independent body once the Bangsamoro bill is ratified.

Another 35% will be decommissioned once the Bangsamoro government and the Bangsamoro police are established. The rest will be deactivated when the exit agreement is signed. 

If there is no BBL, then the process will not continue, Murad said. (READ: 4 scenarios if BBL is not passed)

Amid talk in Congress about amendments introduced to the bill and the possible dilution of the law, Murad did not answer directly when asked if the MILF will decommission if the law is watered down. 

“As I have said, these are tied up to several aspects of the peace process. The calendar of (the next one) is after the passage of the basic law,” he said. 

Murad reiterated that the MILF will accept a BBL that is “compliant with the letter and spirit” of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and its annexes. 

With only less than a year left before the May 2016 presidential elections, the peace process is facing a strict timeline. 

The MILF is aware that the BBL is running against time, Murad said. – Rappler.com