Decommissioning process delayed by 21,000 MILF combatants – Galvez

The joint effort of the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to decommission the group's 40,000 combatants has a backlog of 21,000 combatants, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr. on Wednesday, September 15.

Galvez was presenting his office's proposed 2022 budget to senators and was asked for the status of the decommissioning process. This process entails the disarming of former MILF combatants and giving them the resources and opportunities to live productive civilian lives.

Together with converting MILF camps into productive communities, the process comprises the larger normalization process which the national government has committed to fund as part of its peace agreement with the MILF.

The government's goal was to decommission 14,000 combatants in 2019, and another 14,000 in 2020, but according to Galvez, the pandemic got in the way. (READ: On 2nd year, Bangsamoro gov't struggles to deliver governance 'felt' by people)

"We are not on track. We are on a backlog in the decommissioning of 28,000 combatants. We were supposed to have decommissioned 14,000 combatants last year but because of no close contact, also because of the quarantine controls, the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), and also no mass gathering, we were not able to implement the normalization program," said Galvez.

He later on clarified that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) was able to secure funding in its 2021 budget for the decommissioning of 7,000 combatants this year, which puts the backlog, in terms of funding, at 21,000 combatants.

For 2022, the Duterte administration has recommended a P1.89-billion budget for OPAPP.

New target: Complete decommissioning in 2024

Galvez says the catch-up plan is to implement the scuttled 2020 normalization programs in 2023, or after the Duterte administration when Galvez may no longer be the sitting peace adviser.

"Then later, all of the remaining combatants will be decommissioned by 2024, then by that time also, some of the economic programs in 2022, 2023, 2024, if God allows that the COVID-19 situation will improve, we will finish the normalization program in 2024, your honor," he told senators.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson advised Galvez to clarify with MILF combatants that the assistance from the government to help them transition to civilian life is not P1 million in cash, but P1 million worth of various types of aid – like scholarships and livelihood programs.

Lacson said many combatants appear to think they will be getting P1 million each in cash, an expectation that might cause "problems" for the government.

DBM 'out of touch'

Senator Koko Pimentel raised alarm at the large discrepancy between the 2022 budget amount requested by OPAPP itself and the amount that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is asking from Congress.

OPAPP, according to Galvez, seeks P4.66 billion, while the proposed budget in the National Expenditure Program (NEP) is less than half that amount – P1.89 billion.

But Galvez, upon Pimentel's questioning, said the budget department initially recommended a much lower amount – some P700 million.

"How come the initial figure is too out of touch with reality? What is happening? Why is it like that?" asked Pimentel.

OPAPP's requested budget is higher because it includes P177.3 million for the National Amnesty Commission, tasked with granting amnesty to 8,700 former rebels and insurgents of the MILF, Moro National Liberation Front, Communist Party of the Philippines, and others.

OPAPP also put in a request for P54.6 million for the purchase of motor vehicles.

There were also large additional budget requests for programs. For instance, OPAPP wanted to almost double the budget requested for the implementation of the MILF-Philippine government peace process.

According to Galvez, the DBM suggested that these amounts be sourced from unprogrammed funds, as in previous years.

But Galvez insists that it would be better for these funds to already be in OPAPP's regular 2022 budget.

"We are recommending that you put in NEP because it will take time to get the unprogrammed [funds] because it will be subject to the availability of funds. This is our commitment to our friends and it should be included in the NEP," said Galvez.

Pimentel agreed, saying many of OPAPP's programs were to implement agreements guaranteed by laws. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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