DILIMAN, QUEZON CITY, 30 October 2019 — The children of around 7,000 decommissioned Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants and members of their family, as well as  selected beneficiaries from six government-acknowledged MILF camps will largely benefit from a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed here today between the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE)  of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).Through a special scholarship program soon to be implemented by CHED, decommissioned MILF combatants who wish to continue their education can enroll in short-term courses that will enable them to learn new livelihood skills.

These former MILF fighters are among the 12,000 MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) members who are set to be decommissioned during the second phase of decommissioning which began August of this year and will end in 2022.

The decommissioning process, whose public launch was witnessed by no less President Rodrigo Roa Duterte last September 7 in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, is under the normalization track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangssamoro (CAB). 

According to CHED Chairman J. Prospero de Vera III, his agency is mandated to correct the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro people by carrying out initiatives that aim to improve the quality of education in the region.

“CHED, in many of its policies, have tried to correct the historical injustices in higher education in the region. The President also mandated the commission to make sure that higher education is accessible particularly to parts of the country that have been deprived of an opportunity for higher education historically,” de Vera said. 

“I saw how important and vital this partnership will be in making sure that education as an anchor of development can be used to push the peace process forward,” he added.

Latest data from CHED show there are 93 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) currently operating in the BARMM.

As of June 8 this year, 703,327 students graduated from the tertiary level. Out of this figure, 288,118 of were male, while 415,209 were female.

Specific agreements

Specifically, the MOU includes the following objectives:

1.      Determine the areas to extend technical assistance to the MBHTE in relation to BARMM Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the CHED Registry;

2.       Capacitate MBHTE in monitoring the compliance of BARMM HEIs with the standards of quality education;

3.    Communicate to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) the importance of ensuring the inclusion of underprivileged BARMM students and the children of decommissioned MILF combatants and selected beneficiaries from the Six MILF camps in Listahanan 3.0;

4.      Encourage the deputized Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (ETEEAP) HEIs in Mindanao to help children of decommissioned MILF combatants and selected beneficiaries from the six MILF camps to complete their undergraduate study;

5.        Offer study grants and capacity-building programs to target beneficiaries, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations and procedures

6.    Offer a special scholarship/capacity development program for amnestied/decommissioned MILF combatants and dependents;

7.       Propose professional development programs to faculty and staff of BARMM HEIs through the available CHED and other national government funds; 

8.       Mobilize leading HEIs to provide technical assistance to BARMM higher education needs identified by MBHTE;

9.       Provide MBHTE with necessary assistance in the creation of a tribal university system; and

10.     Assist MBHTE with the necessary technical assistance in the crafting of the Education Code.

Challenges in HEIs

Meanwhile, BARMM’s MBHTE Minister Mohagher Iqbal stressed the importance of raising the quality of education in the region.

“It is generally acknowledged that educated people are less prone to commit violence in the society. While there are exemptions, it is therefore crucial that the educational program in the Bangsamoro is balanced and holistic,” Iqbal said.

He also noted the various challenges being confronted by the region’s education sector, vis-a-vis the peace and security situation in the area.

“[The] number of students in BARMM is more than 900,000. The problem in BARMM is special, it has been wrapped by fighting,” Iqbal said. 

“Yung quality education na sinasabi natin — that is aspirational. Kasi masyadong mababa ang level of education sa BARMM (The quality of education we are referring to is aspirational. Because the level of education in the BARMM is very low). A high school graduate [in the] BARMM is equivalent to a Grade 6 here in Manila,” he said.

Moving forward

De Vera outlined the initiatives being undertaken by the government through CHED to address the concerns being faced by HEIs in the BARMM.

“Ang isang nagsimulang initiative ay yung (one of the initial initiatives) BARMM is now represented in the board of the state universities that have campuses located in the BARMM area. For example, in MSU we already included the representative of the BARMM as identified by Minister Iqbal,” he explained. 

“This is very important because several of the campuses of MSU are in the BARMM and because a representative is already present, there is special attention given to BARMM issues in the board discussions and the prioritization of projects,” de Vera said.

He pointed out that some of CHED’s programs in the region had already started even before the signing of the MOU.

“The staff of the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education has been sitting down with their counterparts in the BARMM to start helping private universities to be included in the Listahanan registry so that their students can gain access to the tertiary education subsidy,” de Vera said.

Listahanan, also known as National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction, is an information management system that employs geographic targeting, household assessment, and validation based on data from marginalized sectors in the country,

For his part, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr noted how the agreement will help develop skilled, competent and forward-looking leaders in the region.

“I have no doubt that our students-beneficiaries will eventually become the next leaders of the BARMM. This is why we need to nurture them at an early stage. Many have said that education is the greatest gift that a parent and the government can give to our children and future generations,” Galvez said. 

“As they gain the knowledge, experience and expertise, we expect these young minds to be strong advocates of peace and moral governance that the BARMM is espousing,” he added.

The normalization phase kicked into high gear after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 79 on April 24, 2019 which created the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization (ICCMN) which shall oversee the implementation of the CAB’s Annex on Normalization.

OPAPP and CHED are among the ICCMN member-agencies that are tasked to handle the four aspects of Normalization Program, which are primarily designed to help decommissioned MILF combatants and their families make the transition to peaceful and productive civilian life.###