Philippines: MILF decommissioning begins
75 weapons deactivated,145 rebels return to civilian life under peace agreement between gov't and one-time largest Moro rebel group

The Philippines’ one-time largest Moro rebel group turned over dozens of weapons Tuesday as part of a peace process that has been threatened by a botched raid and delays in passing an autonomy law.

President Benigno Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Ebrahim Murad attended the ceremonial turnover in southern Maguindanao province where 75 high-powered and crew-served weapons were deactivated and 145 rebels left the group’s armed wing to return to civilian life.

Gradual decommissioning among the wing’s 10,000 estimated armed members is part of the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which was signed by the MILF and the government in early 2014.

The CAB serves as the final peace agreement after 17 years of on-and-off and often intractable negotiations.

Aquino called the handover "historic” during a speech at Tuesday’s ceremony.

"Years ago, an armed group that had long been fighting with government laying down its arms was a pipe dream,” he said. "Our Moro brothers and sisters made a commitment, and before us is the concrete proof of their sincerity. Our brothers are voluntarily laying down their arms.”

The first phase of the decommissioning in Sultan Kudarat town saw the weapons handed over to an independent decommissioning body led by Ambassador Haydar Berk from Turkey.

Also present was the Vice President of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation Huseyin Oruc, who described Tuesday's move to Anadolu Agency as mostly "symbolic."

"The MILF has agreed to lay down arms symbolically to display their obedience to the [peace] agreements, although there are serious problems about the draft bill that will legislate this," Oruc said.

The decommissioning went ahead despite the Philippines Senate and House of Representatives having missed the June 11 deadline for passing Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) -- which legalizes the creation of a new region to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), under the terms of the peace deal.

Oruc said that of the 145 rebels who handed in their weapons and returned to civilian life, most were over 50 years old.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told reporters before the ceremony that convincing the first batch had been difficult as the move was "one step away from surrendering," local news network Rappler reported.

ARMM governor Mujiv Hataman called the laying down of arms "the act of peace, the show of sincerity in the peace process.”

"Beginning today, the MILF will beat swords to ploughshares as soldiers will begin to bring life to the land instead of taking from it,” he said in a statement.

"Today, mothers will begin to send their children to school again without fear, and welcome them home happily. Today, children will start learning to be children, and hope never to learn about war again."

Meanwhile, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles said they were awaiting the passage of the BBL, the regional government’s establishment and its leaders’ election in order to accomplish full decommissioning under the CAB.

"We are happy the MILF continues to be a partner of the government in its objective to bring peace in Mindanao through the reduction of firearms in the area despite the delays in the BBL passage,” she added in a statement.

Aquino’s visit to Maguindanao is the first since he traveled to the province following the killing of 44 police commandos in a botched raid by MILF and a splinter group - involvement which threatened to derail the peace process .

Under the CAB, 30 percent of combatants and weapons will be decommissioned after the BBL’s passage, 35 percent after a plebiscite and the appointment of a transition authority, and 35 percent upon the Bangsamoro government’s establishment.

Governor Hataman expressed hope Tuesday that Aquino "will do everything that is possible for the BBL to come to its fruition."

"This Law, the fruit of many legal minds, both Moro and non-Moro, will be the rock on which lasting peace and eventual economic progress in Mindanao can be built," he stressed.

Both houses of Congress have adjourned sine die last week, vowing to continue working on the draft law once session resumes in late July.

They are looking at September or October as the new deadline for its passage, in time for the filing of candidates for the 2016 elections.

*Anadolu Agency Correspondent Satuk Bugra Kutlugun contributed to this story from Ankara

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Last Modified: 2015-06-17 08:44:48
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