ILIGAN CITY, May 22, 2019 – Nobody imagined this day would come.

All of them were seated side by side, as they exchanged views and shared anecdotes like old-time friends.

Just a few years ago, they were at opposite ends of the battlefield and were at the crosshairs of each other’s rifles.

They only had one goal in mind: subdue the enemy.

But today, everything has changed. The former adversaries – members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front- Bangsamoro Islamic Army (MILF-BIAF), Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police – are now on the same side and share a common cause.

Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) member Abdullah Macapaar, popularly known as Commander Bravo, never thought he would lay down his arms and become part of government.

It was his belief in President Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership that finally led him in making that life-changing decision.

“Bakit po ako sumama sa (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM)? Bakit ako pumayag? Dahil sa mahal po nating Presidente,” Macapaar said during a forum on Normalization held today in this city organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

(Why did I join BARMM? Why did I agree? Because of our beloved President.)

He also attributed his amazing turn-around to his desire to help put an end to the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.

“Sumama po ako doon (BTA) para isulong po natin ang peace hindi lang dito sa Mindanao kundi sa buong Pilipinas,” he shared.

(I joined because I wanted to promote peace not only Mindnaao but throughout the Philippines.)

“Ang Presidente natin ay programa po ay kapayapaan at kami pong mga Muslim bilang mga sundalo ng Allah at myembro ng Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, kami rin po ay para sa kapayapaan,” Macapaar said.

(The President’s programs are for peace and as Muslim and soldiers of Allah and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, we are all for peace.)

For his part, Col. Alex Aduca, deputy commander of the 2nd Mechanized Brigade, emphasized the need for government security forces, members of the MILF-BIAF and other peace partners to work hand in hand to achieve long-lasting and genuine peace.

“At the end of the day, we will be partners and we really need to work hand-in-hand as we commit ourselves in our beliefs, our acceptance and responsibility in attaining lasting peace and development in our areas,” Aduca said.

Meanwhile, OPAPP Chief of Staff David Diciano, a retired army general, recalled the days when he and Macapaar fiercely fought each other 12 years ago.

But now, Dicisiano said they are attending the same forum in order to achieve their collective goal: a peaceful and progressive Bangsamoro.

“Tayo ay nandito at kasama si Commander Bravo … na dati ay iba yung aming grupo pero sa ngayon magkasama na kami. After 12 years nakita natin ang pagkakaiba, iba yung situation na magulo at iba yung tahimik,” he said.

(We are now with Commander Bravo..Before we belonged to different groups but now we are together. After 12 years, we have seen the difference; there is a difference between a chaotic situation and a peaceful one.)

Diciano said he hopes the forum will serve as an avenue for all stakeholders to help in the implementation of the Normalization track.

“We are here today to discuss the Normalization process. We have invited our counterparts in the AFP, PNP MILF and CSOs para makita natin at tayo ay makapag converge para magawa natin ang mga activities at programs ng Normalization na tumakbo ng maganda,” he said.

(We have invited our counterparts in the AFP, PNP MILF and CSOs so that we can converge and carry out the activities and programs on Normalization.)

At the same event, Ariel Hernandez explained the Normalization track does not only focus on the decommissioning of MILF combatants and its communities but also the disbandment of private armed groups.

“Pag nag-decommission tayo, ang isang magiging issue ay bakit sila mag susurrender ng baril kung hindi ma-secure ang community,” Hernandez said.

(When we decommission, a big issue is why will they surrender their firearms if they will not be able to secure their community.)

“So hindi lang decommissioning ang trabaho, malaking trabaho rin ng PNP, AFP at MILF is to ensure na ma-disband ang mga private armed groups and proliferation of loose firearms,” he said.

(So the work is not only the decommissioning of combatants; there is bigger work for the PNP, AFP and MILF to ensure the disbandment of private armed groups and the proliferation of loose firearms.)

The Normalization process is one of the annexes of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which was signed in 2014.

It has four components: the security aspect, socio-economic development program, confidence-building measures, and transitional justice and reconciliation. ###