MANILA, Philippines – The year 2015 would be a crucial year for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as the first batch of rebel firearms are set to be decommissioned while preparations for an expected transition government and its participation in the 2016 elections are in full swing.
The MILF and the government target to begin the ceremonial turnover of firearms on January 2015, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles has confirmed.
Rebel firearms will be stored under lock and key under the supervision of a third party independent body but they will be stored in an undisclosed location in the Philippines.
“Yes, (the firearms will be stored in the Philippines). Although I think there might be some imagination if they can be stored in the sea. But I think that will difficult,” Deles told reporters Friday, November 28, on the sidelines of the launch of the Bangsamoro Basic Law primer in Ortigas.
As agreed under the peace deal, MILF combatants will turn over 20 crew-served weapons and 55 high-powered firearms to signify the start of the decommissioning process.
The ceremony was supposed to be held by the end of 2014 but the third-party Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) that will oversee the process has yet to be fully constituted, said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. (READ: Preparations underway for Bangsamoro transition government)
The IDB is tasked to audit rebel firearms and secure where the firearms will be stored.
Unlike the process undertaken by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when it signed a peace pact with the government in 1996, the MILF will not be asked to surrender their firearms in exchange for money – a process that has been deemed ineffective as rebels only used the money to buy new firearms.
Instead, the MILF agreed to turn over their firearms – not to the government or the military but to a third-party body. A specific number of arms will be decommissioned as political commitments toward the creation of a new autonomous government to be known as the Bangsamoro is fulfilled. (READ: Real peace means the guns will have to go away)
A total of 30% of MILF firearms will be decommissioned once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified, another 35% will be turned over when the Bangsamoro government and its police force have been established, and the final 35% will be decommissioned once the exit agreement signifying that all commitments have been fulfilled is signed. (READ: MILF rebels start decommissioning process)
The parties are also exploring the possibility of creating a registration process that will let MILF combatants keep small firearms that are allowed under the Philippine firearms law.
“What is happening here is not a surrender. There is no military victory here. What is happening is a mutually agreed upon settlement, therefore everything will be in partnership with each other. That is the frame here. A third party helps ensure,” Deles said.
“For the Philippine government, it’s also important for someone to say, yes, the weapons they surrendered were as reported. Otherwise we would just be taking each other’s word for it. We want a strong party. Will not have any other agenda except to ensure that this decommissioning process is happening,” Deles added.
Iqbal said the MILF has already submitted their initial list of firearms.
However, both sides refused to disclose the total number of rebel firearms as the IDB has yet to audit them.
Asked whether the IDB report will be made public, Deles said “there will be disclosure as necessary” but all turnovers will be announced.
“Of course, this is high security. It’s not because of fears of the parties against each other, it’s because there are many other elements that might take advantage of these numbers,” Deles said.
Iqbal has said that decommissioning is a “sensitive issue for the MILF. The armed conflict in Mindanao has been going on for 4 decades.
“That is part of our ultimate sacrifice to give (our firearms),” he said.
MILF and politics
Signing a peace deal with the government signifies the MILF’s transformation from a rebel group to a socio-political movement. (READ: What happens to MILF after peace deal)
After forming its own political party – the Bangsamoro Justice Party – the MILF is in process of registering it before the Commission on Elections (Comelec). It will be a regional party and won’t be in coalition with national parties, Iqbal said.
All MILF officials and members will be automatic members, MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar earlier said.
Asked whether outsiders would be considered, Iqbal told reporters: “Yes, on the condition that they will subscribe to the vision, mission and basic principles of the party.”
Iqbal said there are already “feelers” from local politicians but the MILF chief negotiator refused to disclose names.
The MILF is also open to bringing their rival MNLF on board or joining them in a coalition, Iqbal said.
“They are welcome to join us. Otherwise, they can form their own political party and when it comes to creating a government, we can coalesce with them,” Iqbal said.
The peace accord signed in March gives the MILF the chance to lead the transition government that will take over once the proposed law seeking to create a new autonomous government, with greater political and fiscal powers than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is ratified. (DOCUMENT: Bangsamoro Basic Law Primer)
The Bangsamoro Transition Authority should be in place by May, Iqbal said. This would give the MILF at least one year to govern.
The first batch of officials of the Bangsamoro government will be elected during the 2016 elections, signifying the end of the transitional government.
All 50 members of the transitional government will be appointed by the President.
Meanwhile, the MILF has yet to decide on what kind of composition it would recommend, Iqbal said.
“There is a current serious discussion in the MILF leadership because there are 3 ways of constituting the BTA. First would be all MILF leaders, which is not pragmatic. It’s not fair. Or it can be partly MILF leadership, partly outsiders. Or only the head would come from the MILF then the rest would come from various sectors of society,” he added.
The MILF has also yet to decide who it will groom to lead the transitional government.
As far as the 2016 elections is concerned, the two of the most visible MILF leaders would rather focus on building the groundwork.
“Personally, I do not want to join the elections. We want to leave it to the current politicians to engage. That is my personal opinion. Politics is the last thing in our mind,” he added.
Even MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim is also not keen on entering politics, Iqbal said.
“He would be the last person to really, to be interested in running for a political party. Maybe I can be ahead of him,” he said. – Rappler.com