MILF returns 16 SAF weapons

Angela Casauay
MILF returns 16 SAF weapons
(UPDATED) The government and MILF peace panels appear in a joint press conference at a military camp in Maguindanao

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday, February 18, returned 16 firearms seized from the police Special Action Force (SAF) during the deadly January 25 clash between Moro rebels and elite cops in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The weapons were turned over Wednesday at Camp Siongco of the 6th Infantry Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, weeks after the clash that killed 44 members of the Philippine National Police-SAF, 18 Moro rebels and 3 civilians. 

A total of 63 firearms were lost during the Mamasapano operation, according to a police report. 

Miriam Coronel Ferrer, head of the government peace panel, said the “16 firearms” returned by the MILF were “verified [to belong to the SAF].”

RETURNED. Members of the ceasefire committees of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front inspect the weapons. Photo from OPAPP

Members of the government and the MILF peace panels, security officials and the International Monitoring Team (IMT) were present during the turnover ceremonies. 

The weapons were returned through the ceasefire committees of both sides and the IMT, the body tasked to oversee the ceasefire agreement of the government and the MILF. 

The return of the SAF firearms was the first demand made by President Benigno Aquino III to the MILF as proof of their commitment to the peace process.

The other demand was for the MILF to turn over wanted terrorist Abdulbasit Usman.

Unthinkable?

In a joint press conference at Camp Siongco, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal gave assurances that the MILF remains to be a “partner of peace.”

“Some think a partnership with the government is unthinkable but the MILF is willing to take extra mile so the peace process will proceed,” Iqbal said.

“This is for the sake of peace process in Mindanao. We already tested the pathway of war. The issue that we are confronting now in relation to the firearms is not justifying position but full partnership,” he said.

“We saw that the way going to war is not good. All of us suffer. What we need now is to go with the road leading to peace,” he added. (READ: The mourners of Mamasapano)

GESTURE. Some of PNP-SAF firearms returned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Photo by OPAPP

Government and security officials, including Peace Adviser to the Peace Adviser Secretary Teresita Deles and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang Jr welcomed the “gesture of goodwill” from the MILF.

Catapang said he hopes the return of firearms would once again jumpstart efforts towards peace in Mindanao. 

“We need to claim the peace. We must claim, not only win, the peace in our country. Therefore, I say, that this gesture is a very fitting gesture,” Catapang said.

Catapang and OIC PNP Director General Leonardo Espina are coordinating for the formal turnover of the firearms to the PNP, said police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Generos Cerbo Jr.

The PNP welcomes the development, Cerbo said. 

“Magandang pangitain, at least nagkaroon ng development ‘yung naging appeal ng aming OIC, General Espina, noong humarap siya sa Senado na maisauli itong mga gamit na ito. (It’s a good sign. At least the appeal of our OIC, General Espina, when he appeared before the Senate led to a development) It’s a good first move,” Cerbo said. 

Cerbo refused to comment on whether the number of firearms returned was enough. 

Kung merong naiwan o natitira (If there were some left behind), let’s see. We can compare that to the inventory that we have,” Cerbo said.

Threatened peace

The MILF signed a peace accord with the government in March 2014 that sought to create a more powerful autonomous region in Mindanao in exchange for the staggered decommissioning of rebel firearms. 

But the Mamasapano clash threatens to delay the crucial phase of the agreement, which is the crafting of the Bangsamoro law, the conduct of a plebiscite after, and the election of leaders of the region.

The clash killed wanted terrorist Zulkifli bin hir, better known as Marwan, and critics said the incident proved the MILF was coddling terrorists. The MILF however said it does not believe in terrorism as a means to achieve its political goals.  with reports from Jeoffrey Maitem in Maguindanao and Bea Cupin/Rappler.com

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