What happens to MILF after peace deal?

The rebel group sees itself transforming into a 'social movement' even as it works on building a political party in time for the 2016 elections

ARMS DEAL. This photo taken on October 15, 2012 shows members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) standing in formation during a celebration inside camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town, on the southern island of Mindanao. Photo by AFP/Karlos Manlupig

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – How is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) preparing for a post-war environment?

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Mohagher Iqbal said Friday, January 24, that once a peace deal is signed the MILF will cease to exist as an armed group and start positioning itself as a “social movement.”

“Time and again we have been discussing that. Of course, things will change. There will be a lot of transformation. The MILF will eventually become a social movement. It will engage, for instance, in the establishment of schools, hospitals, clinics. It will no longer use the force of arms to achieve its objective…[as it gets] more and more democratic,” Iqbal said.

The government and the MILF panels met here to finalize pending issues, specifically on how the group will “decommission” their firearms and forces. (READ: Peace agreement soon? Gov’t, MILF optimistic; Gov’t, MILF hope to seal firearms deal)  

Regional government

To prepare for the creation of the envisioned Bangsamoro government, MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim had earlier revealed the MILF is also working towards building a political party in time for the 2016 elections. 

Murad said they are taking this step “to maintain the status of the MILF as an Islamic organization.” The political party, he said, “will be the arm of the MILF for the political process.” 

MILF officers have, in fact, been undergoing a series of workshops on building a political party

But will Mindanao see an MILF-led government in 2016? It’s not a guarantee. 

Under the power-sharing agreement signed in December 2013, there is no provision stopping other political groups from running for positions in the Bangsamoro government, where elected members will choose a chief minister from among themselves.  

Although the current peace process includes only the MILF, both sides have maintained that the new Bangsamoro government will be inclusive. 

“The marching orders from the President have always been the same – that we come up with an agreement that is fair to all and a recognition that we should arrive at a just and lasting peace in Mindanao,” said Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who joined the talks here as an observer.

‘Normalization’

The talks’ most difficult phase was the issue of “normalization,” or what happens to the MILF troops and their weapons.

When the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari signed a peace agreement with the Ramos administration in 1996, the MNLF troops were not required to surrender their arms.  

Instead, the government offered the “Balik-Baril” (return your arms) program where MNLF members voluntarily surrendered their arms in exchange for cash.

But the program was plagued by allegations of corruption. Soon enough, MNLF rebels launched attacks against government forces, like the bloody siege on Zamboanga City in September 2013. The MILF, which broke away from the MNLF in the 1970s, vowed to avoid this mistake. The Aquino administration shared the same commitment.

This is why a special section on “normalization” was included in the initial Framework Agreement signed in October 2012, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles. 

“From the signing of the Framework Agreement, it was already decided that there was a need for a sole section on normalization. In fact, the term normalization was used to convey the notion that post-agreement – in terms of what happens to communities, the fighters – is not something that automatically happens. You have to have a scheme for that to be done,” Deles said.

What to do with guns

The peace panels refrain from using the word “disarmament” to refer to how the MILF will lay down their weapons since the group – technically – will not surrender their arms to the government.  

Both sides considered various options. In the case of the Irish Republican Army, firearms were kept in a warehouse. In the case of Aceh, the firearms of rebel troops were destroyed – something ruled out by the MILF.

A 3rd group will be assigned to first conduct an inventory of MILF and their armed troops. 

As the MILF decommissions its arms in phases, the government, in exchange, will reduce the size of armed troops assigned in Mindanao – and help disband private armed groups in the area. 

“We will not surrender our firearms. We will not give them to the government. There will be a 3rd party. In exchange for that, there will be redeployment of government troops, disbandment of private armies,” Iqbal said.  

“There has to be a police (force) for the Bangsamoro [as well as] socio-economic programs all around… transitional justice has to be implemented. These are parallel mechanisms that have to be implemented,” he explained.


– Rappler.com