EJ Obiena

Gov’t, MILF agree on historic arms deal

Angela Casauay

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

(3rd UPDATE) The deal paves the way for the signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro

GUNS DOWN. This photo taken on Oct 15, 2012 shows members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) shouting 'Allahu Akbar' (God is Great) during a celebration inside camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town in Mindanao, to coincide with the signing of the Framework Agreement. Photo by Karlos Manlupig/AFP

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (5th UPDATE) – The 16-year peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) can soon move away from the negotiating table towards ground implementation.

Both sides on Saturday, January 25, agreed on a historic firearms deal that would require the rebel group to gradually decommission their firearms in phases. 

It is the last document needed to be settled before the comprehensive peace agreement can be signed. Earlier, the panels signed annexes on transition, wealth-sharing and power-sharing.

They also signed an agreement on water territories – an issue left hanging when the panels signed the power-sharing annex in December 2013. 

Before the actual signing of the agreement, members of the MILF panel were in a caucus with lawmakers. 

Under the annex on normalization, the MILF agreed to “decommission” a specific number of their firearms and troops in certain periods as the government, in exchange, also gave its commitment to reduce armed forces and help disband private armed groups in Mindanao. 


The MILF, however, said they will not “surrender” their firearms to the government. Instead, a third-party group will handle the inventory of MILF firearms and their troops. Ahead of the signing, government peace panel member Yasmin Busran-Lao told reporters an Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) that will recommend the most appropriate mechanism on how to store the arms will be created after the signing. 

“For peace, real peace in Mindanao, we have to decommission our forces. There is no element of surrender,” Iqbal said.

Both Iqbal and government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer declined to give estimates on the number of arms and troops that will be decommissioned. 


The deal is different compared to the 1996 peace pact between the government and MILF’s rival group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which did not require MNLF troops to lay down their firearms. 

Both sides also agreed to design socio-economic programs for MILF troops who will no longer engage in war, as transitional justice mechanisms are put in place. 

Once the comprehensive peace agreement is signed, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal earlier said the MILF will stop using its arms and start its transformation towards becoming a “social movement.” (READ: What happens to MILF after peace deal?)

CELEBRATION. The celebratory mood of members of the Philippine panel says it all. Photo by Angela Casauay/Rappler

Next battle: Congress

In October 2012, both parties signed the Framework Agreement, which outlines the roadmap towards the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity set to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

The new government will be ministerial in form, with members elected by the people who will choose a chief minister among themselves. It will enjoy automatic appropriations – similar to the internal revenue allotment of local government units – with a 75% share in taxes and revenues from metallic minerals.

Although the parties are expected to sign a final peace pact soon, more work lies ahead. 

It marks the end of a process, which is the formal negotiations – the effective end, of course, with some more finishing touches necessary but it also marks the challenge of a bigger challenge ahead, which is the challenge of implementation,” Ferrer said.

In a statement, Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said, “It has been a very difficult road arriving at this major milestone of the peace process.” The crafting of agreements underwent “painstaking deliberation by the two parties, backed up by thorough discussion and internal consensus-building on each side of the negotiating table, and grounded on extensive consultations with concerned local government units, religious and civil society leaders, and communities especially in the conflict-affected areas.”

Annex on Normalization signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

But the signing of the peace agreement is only the first phase towards the creation of a new government that both sides hope would foster lasting peace in Mindanao. The next battleground is Congress. 

After the signing of the peace pact, the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission will go full blast in crafting the Basic Law that will provide the legal framework for the creation of the new political entity. 

The proposed law will then be submitted to Congress and be certified urgent by the President. Iqbal said the commission has set an April deadline for the completion of the bill. 

Challenges

Deles acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead. She said, “It has been a difficult road getting to here and we know that the path ahead will continue to be fraught with challenges. As we celebrate this moment, we also affirm our readiness to undertake the tasks that shall ensure the full and satisfactory implementation of this agreement…”

North Cotabato Representative Jesus Sacdalan, vice chairman of the House committee on peace, justice and reconciliation, said Congress may have time to discuss the measure when it resumes session from May 5 to June 13, before adjourning the first regular session. Sacdalan, along with other lawmakers, was also in Kuala Lumpur to observe the talks. 

Photo by Angela Casauay/Rappler

Once the Basic Law is passed, a transition authority – to be led by the MILF – will take over to lead the transition from the ARMM to the new Bangsamoro government until the election of officers in 2016. 

A Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) was earlier convened to monitor the implementation of the peace accord. 

Once the TPMT – as well as the government, the MILF and the Malaysian facilitator – agree that all parties have complied with the commitments outlined in the peace pact, only then will the exit agreement formally terminating the GPH-MILF negotiations be signed. 

In his opening statement in the 43rd round of talks, Iqbal said he hopes the “day of reckoning” will come “on or before 2016.”

The 4-decade war in Mindanao has claimed the lives of over 60,000 people, a report from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said. 

Talks for peace between the government and the MILF gained ground under the Ramos administration but encountered a major setback when the Estrada administration declared “all-out war” against the troops.

The Arroyo administration managed to restart the talks and produce an initial deal known as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains (MOA-AD). But war broke out again when the Supreme Court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional. 

President Benigno Aquino III convinced the MILF to return to the negotiating table after holding an impromptu meeting with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan – against all adviceRappler.com

 

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