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GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Former combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), facing the challenges of aging and requiring assistance, have welcomed a move by officials in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to establish an agency dedicated to addressing their needs.
The move, however, did not sit well with some soldiers, policemen, and retirees, some of whom fought against the MILF and MNLF, who called for sensitivity from the BARMM leadership.
They viewed it as an insult to those who fought and made sacrifices fighting against the secessionist movement in the years before the 2014 peace agreement between the government and the former rebel groups.
The interim parliament of the Bangsamoro region has moved to pass Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Bill 44, which seeks to create a Bangsamoro Veteran Mujahideen Affairs Office (BVMAO).
If approved, the BVMAO will provide financial, medical, social, and other forms of assistance to honor the mujahideen who fought for the causes of the MILF and MNLF.
Mujahideen refer to Muslims who engage in armed struggle or jihad, often in the context of defending or promoting their religious beliefs or seeking self-determination.
Based on BTA Bill 44, “veteran mujahideen” are members of the MILF and MNLF who will be at least 55 years old at the time the proposed BARMM law takes effect. They are those who provided revolutionary services in the protracted wars for self-determination between the Bangsamoro people and the national government for at least 20 years between 1969 and 2014.
BARMM parliament member Raissa Jajurie said they were currently engaged in consultations to gather crucial feedback for the proposed measure, which will be included in a committee report to be presented before the region’s legislature.
Regional officials said a substantial budget will be required to provide periodic benefits, as well as other forms of assistance, to the thousands of veteran mujahideen from both the MNLF and MILF.
Jajurie said the proposed veteran mujahideen affairs office would be funded by the Bangsamoro regional government.
If plans don’t miscarry, the measure would likely be passed before the regional parliament adjourns its second regular session in February 2024, Jajurie said.
Some soldiers, policemen, and retirees frowned on the proposed BARMM law, saying it would likely hurt the morale of members of the Armed Forces (AFP) and Philippines National Police (PNP).
“While it may sound as a noble move, the framers of the proposed measure must remember that there was a time when the MILF and MNLF were not fighting for the government, but rather against it,” an Army official, who requested anonymity, told Rappler.
Another military officer added, “Is the financial assistance given to them as part of the decommissioning process not enough? Will BARMM also recognize, honor, and reward us for keeping the country intact?”
Retired police lieutenant Philip T. Morris said he was nearly killed in an ambush by then-secessionist rebels when he served in Cotabato City and the then-undivided Maguindanao.
Morris said he lost a fellow policeman in that ambush.
“What they’re doing is a big blow to the AFP and PNP,” Morris told Rappler.
Mario Almanzor, who served as a ranger in the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary in the 1970s, said, “What they did back then was rebellion and should not be glamorized by treating them the way this country treats veterans and heroes. Many people died. Loved ones were lost due to their actions back then.”
During recent public consultations for the proposed measure, numerous former combatants took turns sharing their experiences from their years of struggle and expressed their elation about the planned recognition of their contributions by the regional government.
Ustadz Abdulwahid Tundok, who led the MILF’s 118th Base Command, said the aging mujahideen also need psychological support because of their trauma.
Tundok said the veteran mujahideen required financial and livelihood assistance, medical and social welfare aid, and educational opportunities for their children.
Rumina Malaguiok, whose husband Tani was a prominent figure in the MNLF, said she served as a field medic during the Bangsamoro struggle in Cotabato and Maguindanao in the 1970s.
She said the BARMM officials’ proposal “brings a glimmer of hope to us veterans and demonstrates that our efforts were not in vain.”
In September 2022, an official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said financial assistance had been set aside for decommissioned combatants of the MILF.
The state-run Philippines News Agency (PNA) quoted DSWD Undersecretary for Inclusive and Sustainable Peace Alan Tanjusay as saying that each decommissioned combatant “gets P80,000 BTFSP (Bangsamoro Transitory Family Support Package) and another P20,000 as livelihood settlement grant.”
Some 5,500 decommissioned MILF members were supposed to receive the cash aid during the final phase of the decommissioning last November. – Rappler.com