CAMP LUCERO, CARMEN, NORTH COTABATO (AUGUST 2, 2019) — Under the bristling heat of the noonday sun, more than 200 men stood in perfect formation in the grounds of this sprawling military facility.
With their freshly-shaved heads and identical white t-shirts and navy-blue jogging pants, they could easily be mistaken for new recruits of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or Philippine National Police (PNP) undergoing their baptism of fire.
However, these 225 sunbaked men are not neophyte soldiers or policemen but are grizzled fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). Today is the start of their basic military training as members of a Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPSTs).
“Many years ago, this type of event was simply unimaginable,” declared Abdulraof Macacua, minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s (BARMM) Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Energy, in today’s ceremonial kick off of the JPST training.
Macacua, who spoke on behalf of BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim Al-Haj, is also the chief of staff of the BIAF.
“No one ever thought that the MILF would ever be in a military camp such as Camp Lucero to undertake military training…and with soldiers at that,” Macacua said.
He underscored the significance of the occasion, noting the basic military training for the MILF-BIAF comes just a month before the decommissioning of the former combatants and their weapons will commence.
Under the Normalization Track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the decommissioning process aims to transform former combatants of the MILF into peaceful and productive members of society and put their weapons beyond use.
“The MILF has taken the mantle of leadership over the Bangsamoro government and its partnership with the government of the Philippines, especially the AFP, is growing stronger,” Macacua said.
“The political track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is being faithfully implemented, while the Normalization process is taking advanced steps,” he added.
JPSTs will function as peacekeeping forces that will be deployed to ensure the security of residents within the six government-acknowledged MILF camps during the decommissioning process which officially begins on September 7.
The JPSTs are composed of members of the MILF-BIAF, AFP and Philippine National Police.
Two hundred teams will be created with a total of 6,000 personnel.
These teams will carry out their duties until the Exit Agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the MILF is signed in 2022.
“This first phase will give the real signal of putting beyond use our combatants’ weapons and their formal return to normal civilian life characterized by productivity and opportunities for personal, familial and collective growth,” Macacua said.
A leap of faith
Macacua acknowledged that “of all the aspects of the Annex on Normalization, the decommissioning is the hardest act to be done by our combatants.”
“We will be turning over our guns to the Independent Decommissioning Body or IDP even if the security situation in our communities is not yet stable,” he said, adding, “And the chances for the swift availment and access to alternative livelihood may still be forthcoming.”
He also reaffirmed the MILF’s unwavering commitment to the GPH-MILF peace agreement, saying, “But as Muslims and gentlemen, we in the MILF will honor and abide by the CAB that we signed with the GPH.”
“In that respect, we have no doubt in the sincerity and support of His Excellency Pres. Rodrigo Duterte for the establishment of genuine and lasting peace that all of us are struggling for in Bangsamoro and in Mindanao at large,” Macacua said.
Amazing turn of events
For Mujahid Abdullah, 36, his participation in the JPST training is something he never imagined would happen being a combatant who fought tooth and nail against government forces.
“Iba talaga ang pakiramdam. Dati kasagupa namin ang sundalo, ngayon magkasama na kami sa iisang kampo,” Abdullah shared.
(The feeling is really different. Before, we were fighting soldiers. But now, we are together in one camp.)
The former warrior said that he was amazed with the turn of events, especially now that he is training side by side with members of the AFP and PNP who were his fierce adversaries before.
“Masaya ako. Sana magtuloy tuloy na itong kapayapaan at wala nang giyera,” he said.
(I am happy. I hope that this peace will continue and there will no longer be war.)
Sustaining the dividends of peace
Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Secretary Carlito G Galvez Jr said the JPST training is a clear indication of the national government and the MILF’s desire to sustain the gains of the Bangsamoro peace process by fully implementing the Normalization Track.
“This activity is a testament that the national government, military, police and MILF are united and committed in their desire to bring long-lasting peace [in Mindanao],” Galvez said.
According to the peace adviser, he has spoken separately with PNP Chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde and AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr, both of whom have thrown their full support behind the Normalization Process
“All of us can be sure that the AFP and the PNP to help transform the trainees as partners of peace,” Galvez said.
He stressed that JPSTs are among the groups that would ensure the successful implementation of the Normalization Track, specifically the decommissioning of combatants and the transformation of MILF camps into peaceful, progressive and resilient communities.
“More importantly, this exercise is another way of further strengthening the mutual trust of both parties (GPH and MILF) in the peace process. At this stage in our relationship, we are no longer peace stakeholders but peace partners,” Galvez said.
A heart for the Bangsamoro
Galve assured the MILF of President Rodrigo Roa’s Duterte’s full support to the Normalization process.
“We all know that the President’s heart is very close to the Bangsamoro. And because he has Moro blood coursing through his veins, he loves all of you and does not want the resurgence of conflict in your areas,” Galvez said.
“The passage of the CAB is one of the greatest legacies President Duterte will leave behind, especially for the people of Mindanao,” he said.
Although Galvez admitted that the implementation of the Normalization phase may seem a daunting task which will require a lot of hard work on the part of the national government and MILF, he remains optimistic that this can be accomplished.
“With the dedication you have shown, I believe that we would be able to realize the objectives of the Normalization Track,” he said.
Band of brothers
Galvez then called on the AFP and PNP to help the MILF-BIAF members cultivate a greater sense of direction, as well develop a stronger love for country as they and their families make the crucial transition to civilian life.
“Treat them like your brothers. We are now more than a band of brothers,” Galvez said. ###