MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it will investigate whether the military itself is indeed the “main source” of loose firearms in Mindanao, a claim made by Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, interim Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
"Most of the firearms are still coming from the armory of the Armed Forces of the Philippines," Murad, also the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel on Wednesday, September 18.
Most illegal weapons in Mindanao bear the markings of the Department of National Defense (DND), Murad added, and that these end up in the hands of rebels, armed groups, and private armies more often now than foreign-sourced weapons did in the 1970s, when the Moro rebellion began.
The DND supervises the military.
Both the AFP and DND said they “take cognizance” of Murad’s statement.
“We are aware that there were losses of firearms and ammunition during armed engagements and ambuscades in the past. And those were properly [recorded],” AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo said in a statement on Wednesday.
“But given this information and other attendant details from Chairman Murad, we will conduct investigation and inventory,” Arevalo added.
The AFP and DND both said military personnel caught gunrunning or pilfering firearms and munitions would face severe punishment, and would not be tolerated.
“We will throw the books at any military personnel found guilty of such offense. And they will be meted stiff penalties under the Articles of War – other criminal and civil punishments applicable notwithstanding,” Arevalo said.
The MILF under Murad has begun a years-long process of disarmament or “decommissioning” as it takes over the Bangsamoro region’s expanded autonomous government.
The former rebel group’s 40,000-strong army began their first mass decommissioning phase on August 26, with an official ceremony on September 7, that will see roughly one-third of their number returned to civilian life by early 2020.
The entire MILF force and some 7,000 weapons will all be decommissioned by 2022, when the BARMM is expected to already be in full swing.
Laying down their weapons is the MILF’s part of the peace deal with the government, in exchange for expanded autonomy that is hoped to bring lasting peace in Mindanao.
Still, the region faces threats of violence from terrorists, rebel groups, and private armies. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.