Normalization 101: Firearms, amnesties and rebel camps

Angela Casauay
Read the key details of the normalization annex here

BEYOND USE. MILF rebels will soon decommission their firearms to a third-party group. File photo by AFP/Ted Aljibe

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – From foes to partners. 

The historic firearms deal signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Saturday, January 25, was the most sensitive and emotional issue on the part of the former insurgents.

As MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said: “All the agreements are substantive and important and very very hard, but the issue of normalization is the most sensitive, emotional… As far as I know it entails a lot of sacrifices on the part of the MILF because to build real peace in Mindanao, we have to decommission our forces.”

But the landmark deal does not entail a simple laying down of arms for the MILF.

As the peace process in Mindanao moves away from the negotiating table, how will the normalization process be implemented on the ground? 

No surrender of arms, just putting them ‘beyond use’

What will happen to the MILF’s firearms and weapons? How many arms and troops will be decommissioned?

The normalization annex does not provide immediate answers to this question. Instead, an Independent Decommissioning Body will be tasked to recommend the most appropriate manner of dealing with rebel firearms after conducting an inventory and verifying the weapons and members of MILF’s armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). 

The government and the MILF have considered examples around the world, such as the Irish Republican Army model, where firearms were stored in a warehouse. The MILF, however, has ruled out the destruction of weapons.

One thing is for sure – the decommissioning process will not happen in an instant but rather in a “gradual and phased” manner, where the MILF will decommission a specific number of arms and weapons in certain timeframes. This will also coincide with parallel commitments from the government to redeploy armed and police forces in Mindanao and lead the disbandment of private armed groups. 

From camps to communities

To help former rebels live a life beyond the armed struggle, customized socio-economic programs will be made available depending on their needs. A trust fund to accommodate multi-donor country support will be set up for this purpose.

As part of the normalization process, the following rebel camps will be transformed into “peaceful and productive” communities:

  • Camp Abubakar as-Siddique in Maguindanao
  • Camp Bilal in Lanao Del Norte and Lanao del Sur
  • Camp Omar ibn al-Khattab in Maguindanao
  • Camp Rajamuda in North Cotabato and Maguindanao
  • Camp Badre in Maguindanao
  • Camp Busrah Somiorang in Lanao del Sur

Both sides also committed to provide special socio-economic programs for women. 

Amnesty

The government will grant amnesty and pardon to MILF troops charged with or convicted of crimes and offenses connected to the armed conflict in Mindanao.

This is expected to happen around February or March, government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer

In an effort to “heal the wounds of conflict,” a separate committee will also be created to recommend the most appropriate transitional justice mechanism for the Bangsamoro that would address historical injustices. 

Who will oversee the process?

A number of coordinating bodies – composed of members from both sides as well as international players – will be created to facilitate the various aspects of normalization. These include: 

  • Joint Normalization Committee
    • Main body that will oversee the normalization process
    • Terms of reference to be released within 2 months after the signing of the annex on normalization
  • Joint Peace and Security Committee 
    • Composed of 3 representatives each from the government and the MILF- Tasked to coordinate with the two parties’ central command and develop guidelines for effective partnership
  • Joint Peace and Security Teams
    • To be composed of Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and BIAF members that will be assigned in areas across Mindanao
  • Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission
    • Tasked to study and recommend appropriate mechanisms for transitional justice and reconciliation
    • To be headed by an international expert

The terms of existing bodies monitoring the ceasefire agreement such as the International Monitoring Team, Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilites and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group or AHJAG were also extended. 

Earlier, the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP) – tasked to recommend the most appropriate form of police force for the Bangsamoro – was convened. 

Police force 

The Bangsamoro police force will be “professional and civilian in character,” according to the annex. However, it does not identify the structure of the future police force. This will be subject to recommendations from the ICP. 

The interim Bangsamoro Transition Authority shall have “substantial participation” in choosing the head to be selected from a list of 3 eligible officers as recommended by the PNP.

Redployment of AFP troops 

As the situation in Mindanao gets better, the government will also redeploy AFP units and troops assigned in Bangsamoro areas. 

Like the MILF, AFP troops in Mindanao will also be subjected to a joint security assessment and inventory so that only a number “necessary for national defense and security” will be retained. 

Timeline

When will all these parallel processes happen? 

The timetable will be released upon the signing of the comprehensive agreement on the Bangamoro, according to the annex.

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

 – Rappler.com 

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