Gov’t readies amnesty for MILF fighters under peace deal

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2019 03:32 PM

Moro Islamic Liberation Front Peace Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal (in blue) strikes the gong while MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim (in green, center) and other Bangsamoro leaders release doves during the formal launch of the campaign for the Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite in Cotabato City on Dec. 10, 2018. Manman Dejeto, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- The Philippine government is working on an amnesty package as the country’s largest Muslim rebel group prepares to decommission its weapons and govern a new autonomous region in the conflict-torn south.

Amnesty was among the “immediate steps” the government committed to do “to facilitate the healing of the wounds of conflict and the return to normal life” of combatants when it signed a 2014 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The group is set to lead a 3-year transition government, which will be set up soon after the 2-phase plebiscite for a new autonomy law is completed.

Residents of Muslim enclaves in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato voted on Feb. 6 on whether to join the new self-governing region.

An initial plebiscite on Jan. 21 ratified a new law granting greater autonomy and fiscal resources to the predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao.

“We're trying to fast track the amnesty, but you know the amnesty has to be concurred with by Congress, so we're working on that,” Undersecretary Nabil Tan told ANC’s Early Edition on Wednesday.

Tan, who heads the government panel overseeing the implementation of the peace deal, acknowledged that those with pending cases would “normally” not be appointed to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

PROVISIONAL APPOINTMENTS 

The MILF will push for “provisional appointments” until the rebels are amnestied, said Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the group’s implementing panel.

Around 10 MILF commanders are still facing criminal cases for “common cases” in connection with the Mindanao conflict, he told ABS-CBN News.

Some 35,000 to 40,000 combatants may be covered by the amnesty, he said, based on the list earlier submitted by the MILF.

“They have submitted already the personalities, but we are trying to track the cases, the courts where they’re filed,” Tan said. “It’s a continuing process.”

CLEAN SLATE

The amnesty will provide MILF combatants with a “clean slate,” said Benedicto Bacani, executive director of the Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance.

But he cautioned against putting them in the Bangsamoro government right away without completing the “normalization” process.

“Don’t involve them in governance kasi precisely they are not ready yet,” he told ABS-CBN News.

Bacani said the MILF should instead pick “the best and the brightest among the Bangsamoro people.”

They don’t necessarily have to be part of the group, he said, but should be committed to the MILF’s “change and reform agenda.”

“The Bangsamoro government cannot be an employment agency for combatants,” he said.

“The place of the combatants will be in the normalization (phase), not in governance.”

MNLF EXPERIENCE

Bacani cited problems encountered in the past with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a final peace agreement with Manila in 1996.

“Because the mainstreaming was not so successful, what happened was the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) became a big employment agency,” he said.

The ARMM, described by critics as a “failed experiment,” will be replaced by a more powerful and well-funded Bangsamoro government.

“The worst thing that could happen is we see a repeat of 1996 when Misuari came to office as governor and immediately appointed 39 members of the central committee to various positions within the ARMM at that time,” Francisco Lara Jr, senior consultant of the peace advocacy group International Alert Philippines, recalled.

In the case of the MILF-led transition government, he said “people will be looking at who the appointees are going to be.”

“They’re going to look at how things are going to be managed,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“They’re going to be checking if this is not going to be a corrupt government. It’s really going to be tough but they have been preparing for this for quite a while.”