Manila — The long quest for peace in the Philippines’ troubled south marked another milestone on Saturday as Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters began to demobilize in a ceremony witnessed by President Rodrigo Duterte. About 1,060 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) were presented to the president at the Old Capitol of Maguindanao in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat.
In a message, Duterte thanked all those who had worked to end armed hostilities between the government and MILF. “I take pride in the fact that we have made significant progress in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) including the decommissioning process,” the president said. “This is indeed a huge step towards our goal of achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.”
Duterte assured the decommissioned combatants of the government’s support as they reintegrate into society and enjoy fruitful and productive civilian lives. “Do not be disheartened that you surrendered your firearms to the government — we have given you your own government,” he told the former rebels, referring to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
“I look forward to having you as government partners as we take further strides in securing lasting peace and order in Mindanao.”
Duterte then encouraged the former MILF fighters and the rest of the Bangsamoro people to take advantage of all available resources in their land, including oil in the Liguasan marsh, to bring prosperity and development in the region.
“Let us set aside our differences and avoid further armed conflict. I also invite all concerned stakeholders to continue working with the government so our gains will never go to waste,” the president continued.
“As you open a new chapter in your lives, I hope you will be inspired to take this opportunity to improve your lives and create a better future for your families and love ones.
“Let us celebrate this milestone confident that we have started building a brighter future for a nation where every Filipino, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, or ideological leanings will have the chance to live in peace, prosperity and harmony with one another.”
BARMM Interim Chief Minister Murad Ibrahim, who also chaired the MILF, said the decommissioning of the BIAF proved the MILF’s commitment to fulfill its obligation under the peace agreement. “We assure you that we will continue to uphold our part of the bargain,” he stressed.
“The 1,060 combatants who are to be decommissioned today are not ordinary individuals. They are 1,060 individuals whose lives were drastically affected. These are 1,060 stories of love, faith and sacrifice for the sake of Allah and for the sake of the aspiration of every Bangsamoro,” he added.
The combatants, he pointed out, are just a small part of the 12,000 BIAF members to be decommissioned this year, and the larger total of 40,000 MILF fighters who will undergo the same process.
Murad thanked the BIAF for their willingness to give peace a chance. “Let me reiterate, we are undergoing a process for peace. The decommissioning is our first step in achieving our goal to turn from combatants to a civilian but productive life.
“Now our brave combatants will face a different struggle, to embrace a new mindset that instead of going to the field for conflict, we will now go to the field to harvest our crops. That instead of carrying firearms, we will carry tools for work and education. That instead of thinking about a possible encounter the next day, we can now think of opportunities that awaits us, our children, and those who will follow.
“It has been a long road for all of us and we are not yet close to the finish line. So much more needs to be done and so much more needs to be fixed. Our time on the battlefield is over, but the cause will live on in each and every single one of you.”