President Benigno S. Aquino III presided over the stately turnover of 75 ammunition from 145 soldiers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the International Decommissioning Body (IDB) at the Old Provincial Capitol in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. The witnesses from the IDB was headed by Turkey’s former ambassador to NATO, Haydar Berk, and joined by Jan Erik Wilhemsen from Norway, Major Muhammad Aiman Syazwi Bin Haji from Brunei, and local retired experts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Lieutenant General Rey Ardor, Dr. Mario Aguja, Von Al-Haq and Janati Mimbantes.
In his message, President Aquino said that the MILF’s turnover of weapons is an honest and responsible show of support to the Bangsamoro Agreement which aims to achieve enduring and much needed peace in Mindanao. This is despite of the deferral in the section of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress. In relation to this, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman said the gesture is “an act of peace [and] the show of sincerity in the peace process.” He also expressed hope that President Benigno Aquino III will see through the passage of the BBL.
The surrendered firearms included 55 guns (AK47, M14 and M16) and 20 units of medium and heavy machine guns decommissioned from the 145 Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) soldiers. This ceremony marks the first of the four periods of the progressive decommissioning process that the MILF will go through as a major aspect of the signed agreement under the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The decommissioned weapons will be transported to Camp Iranun (Abubakar) in Sitio Bombaran, Barangay Tugaig in Barira, Maguindanao.
As part of the Annex on Normalization, the 145 decommissioned BIAF soldiers will get P25,000 in financial aid and PhilHealth cards. They will also receive government assistance to support them in their transition from militant to civilian life.
The ceremony is given positive feedback by other government officials. In a radio interview, Senate President Franklin Drilon said that the ceremonial turnover is a small step to regain trust and peace in Mindanao. “Ang sinasabi nila, 75 lahat ng weapons. Biruin mo, 75, maibalik mo? Hindi po biro-biro iyan… Simula pa lamang ito, hindi naman ito ang huli. May percentages po iyan,” he said. In a previous interview, Drilon said that the decommissioning might be the big push that could help in the passage of the BBL in congress.
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero said he hopes the ceremonial decommissioning will lead to the turnover of more weapons soon. Escudero said that the ceremonial turnover “will help build confidence,” as the peace deal progresses.