[OPINION] Combatants, decommissioning, and lasting peace
To fight for one's rights, and in defense of family and community, is an honorable thing. For decades our communities have been marred by armed conflict because of injustices and oppression – including a number of massacres – that have triggered some of our people to arm themselves.
Now that we have the opportunity to work and build a lasting peace, those same hands that fought war will build the peace for which we have sought for so long.
Presidential Adviser on Peace Reconciliation and Unity Carlito Galvez Jr highlighted the significance of the decommissioning process and its impact on the Bangsamoro peace process.
"We are celebrating another key milestone in the peace process: The decommissioning of MILF-BIAF members and their weapons. The decommissioning process will enable the MILF combatants to return to mainstream society as productive and peaceful citizens," Galvez said.
On Saturday, September 7, more than 1,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants were decommissioned, a process witnessed by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Interim Chief Minister and MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim.
"By and large, the decommissioning of MILF-BIAF members is a clear testament of the MILF's desire to sustain the gains of the peace process, and President Rodrigo Duterte's political will and unwavering commitment to fulfil all signed peace agreements," Galvez added.
This is the second phase of the decommissioning of the MILF's fighting forces, with the first phase done during the tenure of President Benigno Aquino III. Some 1,060 former MILF combatants were decommissioned, along with 920 firearms, and 20 high-powered rifles on Saturday.
This decommissioning takes place against the backdrop of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) and the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro region.
We are now at a critical stage in the Mindanao peace process leading up to the fulfillment of the commitments made by both the government and the MILF.
In April, President Duterte signed Executive Order (EO) No. 79, Implementing the Annex on Normalization Under the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, bringing together at least 17 government agencies to work on the normalization track.
Under EO No. 79, members of the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization include the departments of defense, interior, justice, social welfare, agriculture, education, finance, health, labor, budget, trade, information and communications technology, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, National Economic and Development Authority, National Security Council, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and Commission on Higher Education.
What the decommissioning means for these MILF combatants is that they will return to being civilians after years, perhaps even decades, of conflict. For some of these people, their whole lives were spent defending the cause of the Bangsamoro and their guns have meant everything to them – weapons with which to defend themselves and their communities from oppression, and injustices, including land-grabbing.
"As we proceed with the decommissioning process, let me assure our MILF combatants that the government will assist you as you reintegrate into society and enjoy fruitful and productive civilian lives," Duterte said in his speech at the decommissioning rites. He also said he looked forward to having the decommissioned MILF fighters "as government's partners as we take further strides in securing lasting peace and order in Mindanao."
"As our [decommissioned] combatants open a new chapter in your lives, I hope that they will be inspired to take this opportunity to improve their lives and create a better future for your families and loved ones as well," Duterte said.
Like those who came before us, it is to these combatants that we Moros owe what we have right now – including the BARMM – and the continuation of our struggle for justice and genuine autonomy and self-rule.
It is but right that we honor these people with the help they need that we can offer so their families will have the good lives they fought so hard to provide, so their children will have the education they need to ensure that they will not end up fighting against oppression and injustice ever again.
It is under this premise of peace, justice, and autonomy that the BOL was passed and ratified. Let's make sure that we deliver this, for the generations to come. – Rappler.com
Amir Mawallil is a member of the 80-person Bangsamoro Transition Authority. He worked for 7 years as the director of the Bureau of Public Information of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. A former journalist, Mawallil used to write stories on the MILF-government peace process from 2010 to 2012. In 2018, he published a book of essays that narrates his people's struggle.