MANILA, Philippines – The former headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is being considered as a possible storage for decommissioned rebel firearms under the peace agreement with the Aquino government.
“That’s part of the discussion and I think it’s gaining some movement forward – that that would the place where the decommissioning will take place. But nothing is final. Everything is in a state of flux,” MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said Wednesday, January 21.
Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao, now known as Camp Iranun of the Army’s 603rd brigade, used to be the main camp of the MILF until government forces seized it during the 2000 all-out war under the administration of former president and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
It was where Estrada brought in truckloads of lechon (roast pig) to celebrate the fall of the camp.
Why choose this camp as storage?
Iqbal said it is “very symbolic” for the MILF. Camp Abubakar was the political and military headquarters of the group, and was the site of prolonged gun battles with the military.
Up to now, the home of MILF founder Hashim Salamat still stands in the camp. When the military took over, they preserved the structure.
It is also ideal because it is accessible to both the government and the MILF, 603rd Brigade Commander Colonel Arnel Dela Vega said.
Under the government and the MILF’s final peace agreement, MILF firearms would not be surrendered to the government but rather placed under lock and key in a secured location.
The firearms would not be decommissioned in one go. A specific number of weapons would be turned over as political commitments towards the creation of the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous region are achieved. (READ: Real peace means the guns would have to go away)
To oversee the process, the Independent Decommissioning Body has been constituted.
The body is in charge of conducting an inventory of MILF arms and troops, as well as providing recommendations on how best to deal with the decommissioned firearms.
The IDB is currently in Cotabato City to scout for locations and set up their office. Turkey Ambassador to the Philippines Haydar Berk, chair of the IDB, on Tuesday inspected Camp Iranun. He was accompanied by IDB vice chairman General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen of Norway.
As a symbolic gesture, the MILF is set to turn over 20 crew-served and 55 high-powered firearms to the IDB in February, Iqbal said.
The event was supposed to be held December, and then set for January, but the IDB was not yet ready.
Peace panels are set to fly to Kuala Lumpur on the last week of January to finalize the protocols. Malaysia serves as the third-party facilitator to the government-MILF peace process.
Ferrer said that nothing is final until the protocols are signed.
Dela Vega said among the plans for the decommissioning process include creating a Joint Security Peace Team to be composed of 1,400 members (700 police and 700 MILF combatants) to guard the storage facility, Dela Vega said.
Also being discussed is the venue for the training of the joint team. Aside from Camp Iranun, other areas being considered inlcude the PNP regional headquarters in the ARMM and the old Maguiondanao provincial capitol in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.
On how rebel firearms will be stored in Camp Iranun, Dela Vega said the parties are considering storing the firearms in a container van with the option of destroying them once the peace process is complete.
The government won’t yet disclose the list of firearms submitted by the MILF since it is still subject to audit.
“What’s important is we know our commitment,” Ferrer said.
A total of 30% of MILF firearms will be decommissioned once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified while another 35% will be turned over when the Bangsamoro government and its police force have been established.
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)
This is a departure from the process undertaken by the Moro National Liberation Front when it signed a peace pact with the government in 1996.
Under that arrangement, MNLF combatants were asked to to surrender their firearms – a process that has been deemed ineffective as rebels only used the money to buy new firearms.
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law seeks to create an autonomous region in Mindanao with greater fiscal and political powers as a means to end 4 decades of war in Mindanao.
Before the new Bangsamoro government can be established, the proposed law needs to be approved twice – in Congress and through a plebiscite. – Angela Casauay/Rappler.com