ALBAKRA MILF

THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have signed the Annex on Normalization, the fourth annex that was expected to be one of the most controversial, if not the most complicated annexes because it deals with the decommissioning of the rebel forces.

The signing of this last annex now paves the way for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the BangsaMoro (CAB), the final peace agreement between the Philippine government and the rebel group. This will be followed by a push by the Philippine government for the legislation of a charter for the BangsaMoro entity, which would then be subject to a plebiscite in the affected areas. Elections are then expected to follow suit. Both parties hope to have these elections before the 2016 national elections.

RPG
MILF rebels prepare to fire rocket propelled grenades at government positions during a skirmish near Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao in 1999

“It has been a difficult road getting to here and we know that the path ahead will continue to be fraught with challenges,” said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles in a statement posted on the government panel’s website. “In moving forward, our legislators will take on the crucial role of enacting the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which the Bangsamoro Transition Commission is now drafting. There will be new arrangements and mechanisms set up for the GPH and the MILF, assisted by selected third-parties and independent bodies, to work together on the multiple tracks that will ensure the transformation of MILF forces and conflict-affected communities from the harsh ways of war to the nurturance of partnership and cooperation – all these to unleash the unlimited potentials for the development of Mindanao, especially for the communities so long left behind.”

The following are the salient points of the Annex on Normalization:

  • The MILF shall undertake a graduated program for decommissioning its armed forces “so that they are put beyond use;”
  • Decommissioning should include a smooth transition for MILF rebels to “productive civilian life” through a comprehensive socio-economic program;
  • A needs and skills assessment will be done for MILF rebels to address their and their communities’ needs;
  • An Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) composed of three foreign and four local independent experts will oversee the decommissioning of both rebel forces and their weapons;
  • Government will inventory and redeploy AFP units in the BangsaMoro; AFP installations will remain only for national defense and security;
  • Government and the MILF will devise a plan for the disbandment of private armed groups in the BangsaMoro.;
  • A Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission shall be formed to address “legitimate grievances” of the BangsaMoro people, “correct historical injustices,” and address human rights violations;
  • As “a gesture of goodwill.” both the GRP and the MILF will constitute joint task forces for the MILF camps Abubakar As-Siddique, Bilal, Omar, Rajamuda, Badre, and Busrah, to “transform these areas into peaceful and productive communities;”
  • To “facilitate the healing of the wounds of conflict,” the government shall institute a pardon and amnesty for persons “charged with or convicted of crimes and offenses connected to the armed conflict in Mindanao.” However there is no mention as to whether this only refers to conflict with the MILF, or with any other rebel group;
  • Law enforcement will be the function of the BangsaMoro police force, which will be professional and civilian in character. Details of the police force, however, are still to be hammered out by an Independent Commission on Policing;
  • Several joint mechanisms are to be established, including the Joint Normalization Committee to coordinate the different processes of normalization; and the Joint Peace and Security Teams, made up of representatives from the AFP, the PNP, and the MILF, to work for the peace and order of the areas mutually identified by the two groups.

ALBARKA CIVILIANS
Civilians living in MILF communities will be some of the targeted beneficiaries of socio-economic programs

In her statement, Deles said the government hewed closely to the parameters set by the Constitution, and kept in mind the weaknesses that had been exposed in the government’s earlier peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front.

“In crafting the annexes, the GPH panel sought at every point to abide by the President’s instructions that all peace agreements to be signed must be consistent with the constitution, including its flexibilities; must reflect the hard lessons learned from our past peacemaking efforts; and must be in accordance with the capacity of the parties to deliver politically, economically, culturally and in all ways necessary,” Deles said.

MILF ALBARKA FRONTAL
Need for normalization: MILF rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan

Observers have noted that the lack of a firm normalization process was one of the major weaknesses of the government’s Final Peace Agreement (FPA) with the Moro National Liberation Front, which it signed with the rebel group in 1996. The 1996 FPA did not provide for the full decommissioning of all MNLF fighters and their weapons, but merely provided for the integration of some MNLF fighters into the AFP and the PNP.

As a result, the MNLF retained many of its camps, where MNLF fighters held on to their firearms almost two decades after the peace agreement was signed. MNLF rebels loyal to MNLF founder Nur Misuari laid siege to Zamboanga City late last year to protest what they said was government’s failure to implement the 1996 peace agreement. The rebels were later driven out of the city, and Misuari is still in hiding.

ABUBAKAR

While the signing of the fourth annex is seen as the final step prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the BangsaMoro, one member of the MILF negotiating panel acknowledged that the journey to peace is not yet over. What follows is a long, and possibly equally tortuous process of getting Congress to enact a basic law for the BangsaMoro, and getting this ratified through a plebiscite in the proposed areas. Only then does the ultimately more difficult task of implementing the peace agreement begin.

“Actually, the hard work has just begun,” the MILF source said.

The Annex on Normalization may be read here.

 

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