Ex-MILF fighter hopes to come home

Rappler.com
A former MILF fighter, now a taxi driver who fled Maguindanao 4 years ago, hopes to come home once a peace deal ends the decades-long Muslim rebellion

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – 30 minutes from Cotabato City in the south, Darapanan is the main camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. With the signing of the peace framework, MILF combatants and civilians there face great change ahead. This report from Paterno Esmaquel. (Watch video)

A Davao taxi driver who introduces himself as Ali is a former soldier of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The 38-year-old left the rebel group’s Maguindanao home base four years ago.

“ALI,” FORMER MILF FIGHTER: Nakakasawa na rin ang giyera eh, kasi walang nangyayari. Ikaw nagugutom ka. Lahat, takot, kaba, hindi mo alam kung mabubuhay ka pa o hindi na…Tapos malalaman mo,’yung mga nag-utos sa ‘yo, nasa aircon, may sasakyan, magaganda…

(War can be exhausting. It doesn’t achieve anything. You go hungry. You live in fear, uncertain if you will survive. Then you’ll find our your commanders stay in air-conditioned rooms, ride fancy cars…)

But he sees a spark of hope in the the initial peace agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government. The deal aims for an end to the Muslim rebellion, as well as a vibrant economy that will hopefully lead to peace.

ALI: Maganda ang ginawa ng gobyerno ngayon. Gumawa ng paraan itong si Noynoy na ma-kuwan, ang gulo ba, magawan niya ng paraan na matigil, kasi para ano, makabalik na rin kami sa mga lupa namin.

(The government did a commendable thing. Noynoy found a way to put an end to conflict, so that we can return to our homeland.)

Hope also fills the air in Ali’s native Maguindanao. While MILF troops continue to march with their arms in Camp Darapanan, the peace deal aims to make this place a mostly gunless community.

MILF officials, after all, say the 20-hectare camp is not strictly a military facility. They say the core of Camp Darapanan is its over 1,000 civilians.
Locals speak to Rappler but refuse to be named. A storeowner says life is generally peaceful, except for occasional harassment outside their community.

PATERNO ESMAQUEL, REPORTING: This is the other side of Camp Darapanan. They have stores, schools, mosques… the life of an ordinary Filipino. But this is their only wish: for their life outside the camp to be as peaceful.

MILF chief Murad Ebrahim, however, sees better days ahead. He says people will reap the benefits of a final peace deal with the Philippine government, which he hopes will be signed by 2016.

MURAD EBRAHIM, MILF CHAIR: What is important is it will immediately affect the social conditions, social and economic conditions, of the people in the area, including our fighters. So we will be focusing more on livelihood programs, social, basic necessities, and then on health and education.

But Murad admits this will not be easy. In November, the MILF and the government return to negotiations in Kuala Lumpur to tackle more contentious issues like the sharing of power and wealth. 

Ali says he lives a comfortable life in Davao. But he keeps an eye on the future Muslim region.

ALI: Kahit papa’no, nandoon ang kabuhayan namin, lupa namin, hayop namin, nando’n. ‘Yung ibang mga kamag-anak ko, nandoon. Siyempre doon ka na rin lumaki…

(At least our livelihood is there, our land, our livestock, and even some of our relatives. Of course I was also raised there…)

For now, people like Ali will have to wait for a truly peaceful region they can call home.

Paterno Esmaquel, Rappler, Maguindanao. – video by Adrian Portugal/Rappler.com