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Decommissioning the MNLFs, too

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If only on hindsight, the biggest flaw of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is that it did not require the decommissioning of rebel weapons.  Instead, the FPA provided for the integration of several thousands of MNLFs into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to render them friendly. Since not all of them could be accommodated or were qualified, the remnants were allowed to establish and live in sacrosanct rebel camps, several of which continue to exist and be populated by armed rebels to this day.  These were the rebels who attacked Zamboanga City last September, with plenty of help from others who had been long-time residents in the city.

In comparison, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last Thursday in Manila set down a clear process for the decommissioning of MILF-held firearms. One likely loophole, though, is that MILF rebels may be allowed to hold on to their firearms within the limits set by current law on personal possession of guns, as long as they register them. Heavy weapons of war will have to be turned over to an international independent commission to be eventually destroyed.

This important part of the CAB is nuanced by the need for other armed threat groups in the Bangsamoro region to be first also disarmed, to ensure the security of the MILFs and their families.  The rivalry between the MILF and MNLF makes the latter a threat to the former. Ergo, for as long as the MNLFs will not be disarmed, the Annex on Normalization cannot be fulfilled – and so no real peace, as shown by the Zamboanga Siege, would be achieved. People holding guns will make trouble at the slightest pretext.

The MNLF is not a principal to the CAB, but as its architects insist the deal is for all Bangsamoros, by which the MNLFs by its name alone is included. On this basis, the Bangsamoro Basic Law through the action of Congress when it deliberates it could include a mechanism for the decommissioning of the MNLFs as well, buttressed by a socio-economic package to encourage them to voluntarily turn in their weapons.

On another matter, peace advocate Atty. Jess Dureza recently warned that MILF’s political candidates stand little chance to win positions in the Bangsamoro ministerial form of government when they run in the projected election in 2016 – and so lose their influence to create as they envision the hard-fought Bangsamoro homeland and society. How true! Again, it is a danger that the BBL can address. The BBL can provide for a party-list system like Congress’s to ensure that a limited but substantial number of legislators representing authentic Moro and indigenous groups will be elected- and  thereafter some of them appointed to head key executive departments.  Moreover, the BBL can provide for the creation of independent bodies  - a regional Ombudsman, human rights commission, and the like – whose top officials were nominated for office with the concurrence of the MILF for at least during the first decade of the Bangsamoro existence.

During the CAB  signing ceremony, MILF chief Al Haj Ibrahim Murad expressed the noblest and most generous sentiments about the peace deal.  He said the accord is equally for all Moros, indigenous peoples and settlers in the autonomous region. He and the Aquino government deserve everyone’s trust and confidence, optimism and faith.  How else can we build a better and peaceful future?

(Peace Advocates Zamboanga)




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