Friday, April 30, 2021

Southern Philippines: Keeping Normalisation on Track in the Bangsamoro

 Posted to the International Crisis Group (Apr 14, 2021): Southern Philippines: Keeping Normalisation on Track in the Bangsamoro

Peace in the Philippines’ majority-Muslim region requires disarming 40,000 ex-rebels and encouraging economic development where they live. But progress toward these goals, together called “normalisation”, is sputtering. Both Manila and the former insurgents need to hit the accelerator lest the process lose momentum entirely.

What’s new? Two years into a three-year transition, the “normalisation” process that aims to disarm ex-rebels and pay peace dividends to the Philippines’ Bangsamoro region is behind schedule, partly because of COVID-19. Manila has recently taken steps to restore the momentum, but time is of the essence.

Why does it matter? Normalisation has several essential components, including supplying socio-economic support, deploying peacekeeping teams to boost conflict mitigation efforts and disbanding private militias. Whether or not the government extends the 2022 deadline for the political transition, delays in carrying out these measures could frustrate former insurgents and raise the risk of violence.

What should be done? Both sides should urgently keep working to fulfil the peace deal’s core provisions. The government should redouble efforts to deliver economic and other benefits while helping local authorities address security threats. The ex-rebels should press ahead with disarmament. Donors should increase their development support at this crucial juncture.

Executive Summary

The peace process in the Bangsamoro, the majority-Muslim region of the southern Philippines, requires disarming some 40,000 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and ensuring both their smooth integration into civilian life and peace dividends for communities where they live. Two years into a three-year transition period mapped out in a 2014 peace agreement, progress toward these goals, which the deal describes as “normalisation”, is lagging. Fewer than one third of the former guerrillas have laid down their weapons, and Manila has been slow to distribute to them the economic packages meant to entice them to cooperate. With the clock ticking toward 2022 elections that will mark the transition period’s official end, both sides need to up the tempo. The government should accelerate socio-economic support to former rebels and work to disband private armies that could threaten the deal. The MILF should move ahead with disarmament’s next phase despite delays. Donors should boost support for development projects that benefit communities, while ensuring that such projects do not inadvertently fuel tension.

As enshrined in the 2014 peace agreement, the transition launched in 2019 in the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has two tracks. One is a political process, geared at building regional institutions via an interim government, set to conclude in 2022. The other is a broader normalisation agenda, designed to ensure sustainable peace and development for the Bangsamoro’s population after decades of war; it focuses on deliverables rather than a strict timeline, though it is meant to be closely tied to the political track. The peace deal’s roadmap for the normalisation agenda treats its different elements as of equal importance. Disarmament and other security-related matters are on a par with confidence-building measures, development initiatives intended to ensure that locals enjoy a peace dividend, and transitional justice efforts intended to help communities in the BARMM address and move past conflict-related wounds and grievances.
There are plenty of armed groups in the Bangsamoro that might exploit the moment’s fragility.

In part because of COVID-19, the parties are struggling to make progress on the roadmap’s targets. While they reached a milestone in disarming 12,000 ex-rebel combatants in early 2020, roughly two thirds who should decommission remain under arms, and there are signs that the MILF may be baulking about moving to the process’s next phase. The ex-rebels are growing impatient with the government’s failure to distribute promised economic packages and delays in bringing development programs to camps where many of their members live. Crucial security measures contemplated by the peace deal, particularly the dissolution of private armies controlled by local power brokers and the deployment of jointly managed local peacekeeping teams, are still at a nascent stage of implementation. Some of these problems were surfacing even before the pandemic. But COVID-19 has made things worse, distracting both regional and national authorities. The hold-ups prompted a debate about whether to extend the transition period past its 2022 deadline, which in recent months has consumed too much of the parties’ time.

Further setbacks to normalisation may increase prospects that MILF fighters return to combat or that other militants endanger the fledgling BARMM. There are plenty of armed groups in the Bangsamoro that might exploit the moment’s fragility. A loss of momentum could also threaten what are currently reasonably peaceful relations among the majority Moro Muslims, Christians and other ethno-religious groups. To bolster the flagging peace process and help Bangsamoro reap its benefits:
  • The Philippine government should fast-track the promised socio-economic assistance to decommissioned combatants, both to reassure disgruntled ex-guerrillas that they will enjoy a peace dividend, and to signal to the MILF that Manila remains committed to the 2014 peace agreement.
  • Manila should also work with the interim Bangsamoro government, led by the MILF, to address security concerns that could make ex-rebels reluctant to yield their arms. Most importantly, it should disband private armies loyal to local power brokers, deploy joint peacekeeping teams that include soldiers, police officers and MILF cadre members, and clarify these teams’ exact function, which is likely to involve the local coordination of conflict mitigation efforts by state security forces and the MILF-led interim government.
  • Although extending the transition past its current 2022 deadline seems likely under the circumstances, the MILF should stick to the decommissioning roadmap in the 2014 peace agreement. It should also work with the Independent Decommissioning Body to resolve potential frustrations with Manila and encourage its combatants to participate in the process, including by sharing information about normalisation with them to avoid any dangerous misconceptions.
  • The interim regional government should contribute by institutionalising mechanisms to resolve land conflicts and clan feuds. It should also seek to improve the situation of vulnerable minorities in its territory by passing legislation to protect them from violence.
  • Foreign donors should contribute to the new Normalisation Trust Fund mechanism to support development initiatives that benefit communities and help mitigate conflict risks. These include locally tailored projects not only in the six major MILF camps but also in other conflict-affected areas both in and outside the BARMM.

By taking these steps, the parties can both show their strengthened commitment to normalisation in the Bangsamoro and help keep the vital process on track.

Manila/Brussels, 15 April 2021

I. Introduction

For some 40 years, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) pursued a strategy of guerrilla warfare and, as the conflict wore on, intermittent negotiations with the Philippine government. Fighting affected parts of mainland Mindanao and smaller islands in the southern Philippines, an area known together as the Bangsamoro. In 2o14, the insurgents, representing the Moro Muslim community, finally achieved their primary goal, signing a peace agreement with the Philippine government providing for self-rule. The creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in March 2019 inaugurated a three-year transition period that is to lead to elections in the newly autonomous region. In the meantime, as stipulated in the 2014 treaty, the ex-rebels are heading an interim government, known as the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

The product of decades of negotiations, the 2014 peace agreement laid out a “dual” process: a political transition, which designates the former rebels to steer the interim government in building the autonomous region’s institutions, and a “normalisation” agenda, which includes a wide range of measures designed to support the newly created region in its evolution from war to peace. While the political track is supposed to end with regional elections in 2022, the peace agreement does not fix a timeline for the completion of normalisation, focusing instead on qualitative benchmarks. The text specifies that both parties need to sign an “Exit Agreement” once all commitments have been fulfilled.

The disarmament of ex-MILF rebels – or decommissioning – is just one part of this complex process. Other measures aim to boost economic development across the Bangsamoro, build trust among locals in conflict-affected pockets, dissolve other militias and support transitional justice arrangements. Both Manila and the MILF are to meet their obligations at the same time, with normalisation moving in parallel with the political track. As the MILF’s chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, put it: “These are two sides of the same coin. ... One cannot proceed without the other”.

For a time, decommissioning was moving ahead roughly as planned, but implementation hiccups and then COVID-19’s arrival in the Philippines have caused delays that could sap the parties’ confidence in the peace process. Meanwhile, other aspects of normalisation are behind schedule.

This report examines the status of decommissioning efforts, and the normalisation process more broadly, against the backdrop of the debate that has emerged over whether or not to extend the transition period past 2022. It draws on research in the Bangsamoro and Manila, conducted between late 2019 and early 2021, including interviews with MILF commanders, national and local officials, military officers, civil society representatives, development officials and practitioners, villagers, representatives of the interim regional government, clan members and international observers. It was not possible to meet decommissioned combatants due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Research also drew on government records and webinars conducted on the peace process during the pandemic.

II. The Bangsamoro Transition So Far

In its first two years, the political track of the Bangsamoro’s transition to autonomy has made considerable headway. The interim government has set up key institutions and begun erecting the legal framework of self-rule. But obstacles have arisen – especially of late – that could jeopardise progress. Meanwhile, the spectre of renewed conflict hovers over the region, as not only disaffected former MILF guerrillas but also other armed actors could seek to exploit disorder if the transition stumbles.

A.The First Two Years

There have been several accomplishments on the political track since the BARMM’s creation in 2019. Led by the MILF, the interim government approved a Transition Plan and a Bangsamoro Development Plan that set the terms of its tenure until 2022. The Bangsamoro cabinet is in place, and the regional parliament is, according to some members, a more efficient law-making body than its predecessor. The crucial task of drafting priority legislation that will govern the BARMM after 2022 is under way: of the seven bills planned, two have passed and five are in the pipeline.

After some initial delay, the Intergovernmental Relations Body, a mechanism designed to ensure smooth coordination between Manila and the interim government, is also operational and taking an increasingly important role in sorting out disputes between the regional and national governments. Composed of senior MILF officials and heads of national departments and agencies, it has created a welcome platform for BARMM officials to raise their concerns with Manila. Both sides are also working to ensure fiscal autonomy for the region, consistent with a key provision of the peace treaty and the 2018 legislation that underwrites the BARMM’s autonomy, the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

The political roadmap was thus largely on track until early 2020, when COVID-19 brought disruptions. With the virus infecting people and prompting lockdowns throughout the region, the Bangsamoro government had no choice but to shift to emergency response mode, and it did so rather well. But while its efforts demonstrated a capacity to govern effectively, winning praise from the central government, the interim government lost precious time from its three-year implementation period. The pandemic has, for example, dramatically slowed the already complicated process of staffing the regional administration. The BARMM started up a Bangsamoro Job Portal in December 2019, receiving up to 300,000 applications, but many positions remain vacant. The short staffing has led to bureaucratic delays in the provision of public services which, in turn, corrode people’s trust in the MILF-led authority.

The pandemic has also sparked a debate about whether the transition should be extended. The question arose after a local non-governmental organisation, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, conducted a mid-term assessment of the interim government’s performance and recommended an extension, on account of both the BARMM’s early birthing pains and the time lost in dealing with the coronavirus. The MILF, which is keen to burnish its governance record as much as possible before it faces voters at the polls, was quick to seize this chance for extra time. It started lobbying both Bangsamoro politicians and lawmakers in Manila to lengthen the interim period and postpone elections until 2025. President Rodrigo Duterte and his main peace process adviser, Carlito “Charlie” Galvez, have both come out in support of the extension, but they emphasise that the final decision lies with Congress, which is now examining several related bills.

The extension debate has sown division in the Bangsamoro. Some of the region’s influential clan leaders have backed the MILF’s call for a longer transition, while other strongmen have been critical of the ex-rebels’ campaign. In late February, a group of senators convened a first meeting between the MILF and some of the region’s political heavyweights to work toward an intra-Moro consensus. Failure to find one would bring extreme uncertainty to the Bangsamoro project, heightening tensions between the MILF and powerful clans, as well as raising questions about Manila’s capacity to manage the peace process.

Congress giving the transition more time would allow the MILF to keep building the region’s institutions and further demonstrate its ability to govern before facing the voters for the first time. But should legislators reject the extension, whether on account of internal Bangsamoro opposition or other issues, the MILF will likely struggle to juggle governance with consolidating its newly founded political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, and preparing for the 2022 polls. With their political future at stake, chances are that the ex-rebels would focus on campaign preparations and neglect such tasks as the legal codes yet to be passed and, more broadly, governance in the transition’s final phase.

In the meantime, the normalisation process is also, as detailed below, moving slowly. Normalisation is not strictly bound by the 2022 deadline; the crafters of the 2014 peace agreement were careful not to impose a timetable on this complex process and the Bangsamoro Organic Law adopted in 2018 further formalised the separation of the political and normalisation tracks. Still, as COVID-19 has impeded normalisation’s progress, locals are increasingly worried about the disconnect between the two tracks. The extension debate has therefore raised questions about whether authorities should postpone the 2022 elections due to the delays in the normalisation process.

Whatever the final justification, an extension may, at this point, be inevitable. While it is an imperfect solution to the present problems, it could buy much needed time at a delicate juncture and reduce the risk of the alternative: a combination of rushed elections, uncertainty regarding normalisation after 2022, and a corresponding increase in the risk of intra-Moro conflict. Ensuring that an extension does not do more harm than good, however, rests on two fundamental requirements: first, it needs to be supported by a broad Bangsamoro consensus, and secondly, Manila needs to make a final decision quickly in order to avoid further unpredictability on both tracks.

B.The Spectre of Conflict

Bangsamoro is no longer at war, but it has yet to achieve a stable peace. A reminder of how fragile the situation remains came in late February 2021, when a group of MILF fighters briefly clashed with soldiers of the 64th Infantry Battalion in Sumisip town, Basilan province, leaving three persons injured. But for now, the biggest threats to regional stability come from the militant groups that operate across parts of the region.

In Maguindanao province and the neighbouring Special Geographic Area located in the former Cotabato province, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a MILF splinter group which has since fragmented into three factions, is of particular concern. At least one faction has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and all three continue to stage attacks on military detachments. The group evades army patrols by retreating into an expanse of mountains and marshland.

Child displaced due to fighting in Marawi, Philippines. September 2017. CRISISGROUP

Additionally, in Lanao del Sur province, the 2017 showdown between a local jihadist group and government forces that wracked the city of Marawi continues to cast a shadow. Remnants of the ISIS-inspired Maute Group, which had waged a five-month battle against the army that displaced 400,000 people and turned Marawi into a war zone, have regrouped in the Lanao del Sur hinterlands. The group has drastically shrunk in size and largely returned to its early modus operandi of ambushing military personnel. But it continues to recruit, both in remote municipalities and in evacuation centres housing families still displaced by the 2017 crisis.

Further south, in the Sulu archipelago, the Abu Sayyaf Group, a criminal-cum-militant network, remains active. While incidents involving the group have declined since mid-2020, partly thanks to military operations in Sulu and stronger law enforcement in Basilan by the provincial authorities, public perceptions of security have not risen in parallel. Locals also complain that law enforcement efforts interfere with their livelihoods. A youth leader from Patikul town in Sulu province highlighted that continual military and police raids make farming and other economic activity very challenging.

The prevalence of community conflicts in the Bangsamoro also raises major concerns about the region’s future stability. Despite the COVID-19 lockdowns, a flare-up of clan feuds, or ridos, that had started in 2019 continued into 2020. Police statistics show that 80 per cent of ridos are related to land. Land-related conflicts in areas populated by indigenous people, as non-Islamised ancestral communities in the Bangsamoro are called, also occur with some frequency, particularly in Maguindanao province. In early 2021, for example, fighting erupted in the town of South Upi, pitting Moro Muslims against members of the Teduray-Lambangian indigenous group.

III. The Decommissioning Process

A. Roadmap to Disarmament

The normalisation roadmap in the 2014 peace agreement contemplates the decommissioning of a total of 40,000 MILF guerrillas and 7,200 of their weapons before elections take place in 2022. This approach contrasts with that of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Philippine government and the first Moro rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front, which opted to integrate its fighters into the military and police. While 7,500 of its fighters joined government ranks, the rest never surrendered their weapons. Many remain armed today. This disarmament process consists of a first, largely symbolic, phase followed by three major phases that are tied to particular benchmarks; each benchmark’s completion marks the next phase’s beginning. The treaty also created an Independent Decommissioning Body tasked with organising and conducting the decommissioning process in close collaboration with the MILF and government. Its personnel come from Turkey, Norway, Brunei and Japan.

The peace agreement specifies that the final objective of decommissioning is to dissolve the MILF’s military and “put [it] beyond use”. That military – the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces – includes everything from special forces to women’s auxiliary brigades, medical services and religious personnel, split up among seven regional fronts and 32 base commands across Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. The decommissioning body works off a list of combatants and weapons that the MILF is to submit prior to each phase. Before actual disarmament, the body verifies that combatants are in fact ex-rebel fighters and that the weapons being handed over are on the MILF’s official roster.

The latter task is particularly challenging. Under the agreement, the commitment to decommission 7,200 weapons refers only to guns recorded in the MILF’s official register, including both high-powered weapons and lower-quality rifles from the Cold War era. But many combatants bear arms that are not on the MILF’s list, having bought them personally or borrowed them from relatives, clan leaders or other influential figures. These guns are not included in decommissioning.

B. Decommissioning Progress Report: From Aquino to Duterte

The initial, largely symbolic phase of decommissioning occurred during Benigno Aquino’s presidency in 2015, one year after the peace agreement was signed. A total of 145 combatants put forward their weapons. For some it was a transformative and emotional experience. One of them explained afterward:

During the decommissioning ceremony I was in tears. … Until the night before, whenever I saw a soldier, I wanted to kill him. But that feeling changed that day. The decommissioning process was part of the commitment by the MILF. Regardless of how difficult it was, we followed the orders. And hopefully the government will also fulfil its own commitments as we progress.

Upon taking office in 2016, the Duterte administration was keen on speeding up the peace process in order both to demonstrate its efficiency and to signal its commitment to the 2014 agreement. But the change of administration, the 2017 Marawi crisis and the challenges presented by the need to negotiate the Bangsamoro Organic Law slowed down the initial momentum.

After the Organic Law came into effect in August 2018 and the BARMM was created in March 2019, the authorities launched the first major push at decommissioning – the second phase overall – in September 2019. Some 12,000 MILF combatants laid down a total of 2,100 weapons and 3,480 rounds of ammunition, including 600 rounds for rocket-propelled grenades. The combatants who took part represented all the MILF’s fronts and units. Independent observers deemed it a success. This phase lasted until March 2020, just a few weeks before the pandemic erupted.

One year later, the optimism occasioned by this success has waned and the process stalled. While the pandemic is largely responsible, part of the problem also lies in the fact that President Duterte nominated the top bureaucrat in charge of the peace process, Charlie Galvez, as head of the national COVID-19 response task force. Coming on top of his existing responsibilities, the new job de facto limited Galvez’s – and hence the government’s – capacity to steer the peace process.

C. Socio-economic Support

Issues relating to the delivery of individual socio-economic support the government promised to provide ex-combatants as part of the normalisation process have become a major irritant in Manila-MILF relations.

Part of the problem is that the peace agreement is vague on the details of this type of support. It states only that the government “shall provide the necessary funding for the normalisation process”. In 2014, the first batch of 145 combatants that was ceremonially decommissioned received only around $400 per person and minor benefits. When Galvez became the government’s peace adviser in December 2018, Manila committed, albeit informally, to provide a total of one million pesos ($20,650) per decommissioned combatant, including livelihood support, housing and social protection (such as scholarship grants or civil registration) in the run-up to the second phase.

Rebels received only about $2,000 in transitional cash assistance on the day they were decommissioned.

While the MILF now insists that Manila honour these terms, the government says its undertaking was not formal, and that it will need to complete a needs assessment to determine exactly what will go into the support package. In the meantime, rebels received only about $2,000 in transitional cash assistance on the day they were decommissioned. A disgruntled MILF member remarked that this amount buys a low-quality rifle.

Some resentment of perceived delays is starting to surface. A local MILF leader suggested that thus far it is manageable: “Our combatants are asking about the package. We are explaining the situation to them. The pandemic does not make things easy, and the government is also short of funds, so we can understand”. How long such understanding will last among the rank and file is, however, uncertain. “They say they are being tricked”, said a civil society leader of some MILF members from his area who disarmed in 2020.

D. Next Phases

According to the 2014 peace deal, the next decommissioning phase (the third of four overall) is to cover 14,000 fighters. Despite unresolved issues relating to socio-economic benefits, the MILF submitted a list of combatants and weapons for this phase to the official decommissioning body in late December 2020. While the government apparently has some questions about the list, and the schedule remains uncertain, the third phase seems to be moving slowly forward, with the decommissioning body conducting site visits and consultations as part of its preparations.

But momentum is halting at best. The pandemic has already impeded the preparations, and the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines since March threatens to delay things further. Given the hiccups so far, some commanders and fighters are apparently hesitant to proceed until their comrades from the second phase receive at least 50 per cent of the complete package that Galvez promised. The debate about extending the interim government’s term also complicates matters. The MILF leadership could well decide to postpone the process if an extension means it will have three more years before elections take place – especially given the uncertainty surrounding the support package for ex-combatants. “At the end, it will still be up to the MILF Central Committee”, said a senior commander.

One option for overcoming the present inertia would be to split the third phase of decommissioning in two parts: an initial verification of combatants, followed by the actual decommissioning. Considering that the third phase is several months away at best, this step could give both sides a way of moving forward, even in the midst of pandemic restrictions. The government would also have more time to finalise the support package for combatants and clearly communicate its strategy for delivering it.

Whatever the government and MILF agree to with respect to the package, or fast-tracking part of it, they need to agree soon. For now, it is unlikely that MILF members would argue for returning to war, as the group’s leaders are committed to the peace process and living comfortable lives as politicians. But delay could create problems. Perhaps the greatest concern is that MILF members irked by normalisation’s pace could vent their frustration through violence. Alternatively, they may simply decline to participate. One commander has already told Crisis Group that, given questions about the timing, and more broadly, the transition, “there is no need to decommission”. Progress could also be threatened by leadership vacuums in MILF strongholds, as several commanders died in 2020, perhaps sapping unit cohesion. Should mid- and lower-level commanders feel excluded from the MILF or come to doubt the BARMM’s benefits, some could leave the organisation, conceivably joining other militant groups. This scenario seems unlikely but cannot be ruled out, given the Moro rebellion’s history of fragmentation.

E. Avoiding a Security Vacuum

The framers of the 2014 peace agreement took into account that the MILF’s disarmament would leave in place many armed groups in a region awash with weapons, and that these groups might expand and jeopardise peace prospects for the Bangsamoro. As part of the 2014 peace agreement, the Philippine government and the MILF therefore set in motion measures to begin addressing this potential problem alongside the decommissioning process.

Political dynamics and security concerns have been an obstacle to smooth deployment in others.

One such initiative is the creation of peacekeeping teams – called Joint Peace and Security Teams – comprising soldiers, police officers and MILF cadre members. These teams are charged with managing security in particularly sensitive Bangsamoro flashpoints. Hundreds of men have undergone training and barracks are under construction. But implementation has been bumpy. While a few teams are already in place in some locations, political dynamics and security concerns have been an obstacle to smooth deployment in others. Moreover, when the teams reach the field, they have struggled with operational questions. Although these teams have a mandate to maintain local stability stemming from the normalisation framework, they lack defined rules of engagement. In the absence of a clear mandate that affords them the equivalent of law enforcement powers, the Joint Teams’ practical usefulness remains to be seen. For now at least, they may be best off focusing on coordination of national government and MILF responses to local conflicts.

A parallel security initiative concerns efforts to disband at least some of the most troublesome private armed groups in the region. From clan leaders to village chiefs to governors, heavyweights in the region use these militias in order to get the upper hand in disputes over land, political power and other matters. In some cases, the groups and the figures who control them are affiliated with ex-rebels, while in others they are traditional MILF adversaries. The militias pose a potential challenge for the peace process in that MILF members are understandably leery about disarming in situations where their local rivals are not.

A government task force created to tackle the issue of private armed groups has identified several militias to be dissolved across Mindanao. It plans to encourage local leaders who command private armed groups to disband them all voluntarily, but as the 2022 elections draw closer, it may decide to proceed more forcefully. Coordinating any such efforts with the MILF is critical since as noted some ex-rebels themselves lead militias that are on the government’s list of private armed groups, and many of these private armies operate close to MILF-controlled areas.

Finally, the peace agreement also foresaw two important measures linked to ensuring security across the weapons-infested region: the creation of a Bangsamoro police force, which could include ex-MILF fighters, and the departure of government military forces from the Bangsamoro. While these provisions officially remain part of the peace process roadmap, the former is no longer an option for the Duterte administration, as the Organic Law failed to provide for a regional police force after disagreements over whether such a move would be constitutional. The MILF, however, still considers the peace agreement’s provision for such a force an important part of the original deal and may well bring up the issue in the future. A possible compromise would be for the national police in the BARMM to speed up the waiver of entry requirements for former rebels seeking to join up.

As for demilitarisation, the Philippines army is very cautious about departing from the BARMM, given both the high levels of militancy in various provinces and the stalling of the decommissioning process. While the army’s continued presence could become a source of tension, the MILF has thus far not insisted that it vacate the new autonomous region.

IV. Beyond Decommissioning: Camps, Combatants and Communities

The decommissioning of MILF fighters is only part of a much wider normalisation process designed to bring about sustainable peace in the region. The peace agreement rests on four complementary pillars, which are supposed to have equal priority: security arrangements (discussed in Section III), socio-economic development, confidence-building measures, and transitional justice and reconciliation.

For the MILF, these pillars represent not just a commitment to peace but also its ability to “give back” materially and politically to the group’s civilian base, and the Moro people more broadly, after decades of war. Across the Bangsamoro, people have tremendous expectations of the economic benefits that peace will bring. For now, however, perceptions of what the peace agreement has delivered so far differ wildly.

The differences may in part reflect the great diversity of communities situated in the BARMM. While the MILF’s constituents constitute a sizeable part of the population in many villages and towns, clans or other armed groups command the fealty of many other residents. Even in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, where the MILF is strong, Moro loyalties are not uniform. The Teduray-Lambangian and other indigenous people living in the BARMM deserve particular attention. Together with the Bangsamoro’s Christian population, some of whom are descendants of migrants from elsewhere in the Philippines, they represent a minority whose rights the Organic Law officially protects. But in many areas, violence from Moro groups against indigenous people continues, contradicting the promise of an inclusive Bangsamoro. The peace agreement’s overall success depends in part on how well it helps secure the well-being of these minority groups.

A. Development Efforts and Camp Transformation

Since 2014, most development aid to MILF areas has been channelled via the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development. Funded by a pool of international donors, managed by the World Bank, and implemented jointly by the Bangsamoro Development Agency and local NGOs, the program has bankrolled dozens of projects. Because it has taken something of a piecemeal approach, focusing on relatively small projects such as building warehouses and mills, and running livelihood workshops and community-based education drives, locals have not always perceived the outcomes as a large peace dividend. Some donors appear to understand the shortcomings. One donor official said: “They [the projects] were bits and pieces of little things”. Locals’ irritation at the slow pace of development adds to the frustration with the deadlock regarding individual support packages.

Today, the MILF camps are not so much military compounds as they are villages where guerrillas, Moro civilians and other groups such as indigenous peoples live together.

This aid is closely tied to the provisions of the 2014 peace agreement and its requirement that six major MILF camps be transformed into “peaceful and productive communities” via development projects. The camps date back to before the peace deal. In the rebellion’s early days, MILF fighters took cover in Mindanao’s jungles and mountains, but later they moved to population centres and now live among their civilian support base. Today, the MILF camps are not so much military compounds as they are villages where guerrillas, Moro civilians and other groups such as indigenous peoples live together. A local government official from Maguindanao with several MILF relatives explained: “It is a community-centred revolutionary group. They [the combatants] always talk to other residents when they pray in the mosque. Everyone here is a relative”.

The importance of camp transformation lies not only in the six areas’ political and social significance as “recognised camps”, prioritised by the peace agreement, but also in their links to decades of conflict. In the last twenty years, fighting between government and MILF forces affected all these camps, as well as nearby settlements, and some of the MILF’s strongest units still operate in or in vicinity of the six camps. Prominent MILF commanders such as Abdullah Macapaar, aka Commander Bravo, and Jack Abbas command large forces in the Bilal and Rajamuda camps, respectively. Camp Abubakar, formerly the headquarters of MILF founder Salamat Hashim, carries an emotional value for many of the group’s leaders.

Over the last few months, both the government and the MILF seem to have made progress in speeding up development efforts, at least for the priority areas around the six MILF camps. In December 2020, the Bangsamoro Planning Development Authority completed a Camp Transformation Plan, which will serve as the blueprint for camp-related development efforts. The government and MILF are also in the process of conducting needs assessments in the six designated priority areas as well as other MILF communities; they began this work in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 peace agreement through the Joint Normalisation Committee, which they had formed, but left it unfinished. In February 2021, President Duterte also authorised the Memorandum of Understanding between the Philippine government and the World Bank that will activate the Bangsamoro Normalisation Trust Fund. The new instrument is meant to enable donors to participate in a structured approach to funding normalisation and to help the delayed camp transformation program catch up.

Among the major issues that remain to be ironed out with respect to camp transformation is the exact delineation of the camps, which has been a longstanding issue between the parties. A maximalist view, embraced by the MILF, views them as long stretches of land encompassing entire towns and even provinces. The government is sceptical of these claims and considers only a handful of villages to be actual camps.

But there may be a solution within reach. After long discussions, the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority now proposes to demarcate the camps with a three-tier formula: a “centre” or “core” at the heart, surrounded by or next to an “outer core” and encompassed by an “area of influence”. This definition accommodates both positions, and has the added advantage of recognising the complex social reality on the ground, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are “dependent on and interconnected with the camps”. Given the difficulty of finding a mutually acceptable formula for delineating MILF territories, this understanding, if accepted by all parties, would be welcome progress. The practical impact of tiering would likely be worked out once implementation starts and might concern prioritisation and timing of camp transformation projects.

B. Beyond the Camps

Although the government officially recognises only six MILF camps, there are, in reality, far more rebel outposts. Thousands of combatants thus live outside the six recognised areas, some of them even outside the BARMM. The Joint Normalisation Committee is meant to coordinate economic support from donors, the government and NGOs to these areas. Manila provides its own support through its existing socio-economic programs at the national level, and the BARMM is mandated through the Organic Law to offer its own assistance, meaning that both have a role to play in supporting rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. Programs for rebel outposts beyond the camps, however, have so far failed to take off. A MILF commander at a base camp in western Mindanao confided: “We are still at the planning stage”.

Development planners should thus design their projects to encompass an area much broader than the six major MILF camps and the BARMM. Including areas beyond the MILF camps in the BARMM in development projects may help contain tensions that could emerge from unequal distribution of gains. “We cannot separate the place from the people”, said a development practitioner. Communities and MILF base commands in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte should receive particular attention, given the levels of poverty and conflict there, as well as the presence of armed and criminal groups.

C. Transitional Justice, Reconciliation and Amnesty

After decades of conflict, the 2014 peace agreement provided for a transitional justice process that sought to investigate human rights violations, correct historical injustices and redress other grievances of the Bangsamoro people. The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission that emerged held consultations with conflict-affected communities, leading to a series of recommendations. Two key proposals were to create a National Commission on Transitional Justice and to recognise disputes over land as a major driver of many past and present conflicts in the Bangsamoro. The Commission drafted its recommendations for both the national government and the autonomous region.

But the initial momentum ebbed and, despite Manila’s creation of a unit to carry out the Commission’s recommendations, most of them remain in limbo. In an effort to fill the vacuum, civil society organisations and academics have initiated an Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice and Dealing with the Past, which focuses on capacity building and skills training for members of interim government ministries and the general public. But absent a stronger commitment from the national government, some activists fear the civil society initiative may be raising expectations that Manila has no intention of meeting. Some worry that Manila may end up “cherry-picking” the issues it plans to address, focusing for example on organising a bureaucracy to implement recommendations rather than actually carrying out recommendations directed at the state to, for instance, make apologies for past war crimes and offer reparations.

To facilitate reconciliation, the 2014 agreement also foresaw amnesty and pardons for MILF members who are either behind bars or facing arrest warrants that predate the peace process. But while in recent years Manila has initiated confidence-building measures in particularly prominent cases, for example by issuing safe conduct passes to high-level commanders (eg, when they were travelling between recognised camps or to Cotabato, the BARMM’s seat), it did not clearly communicate its position on the question of amnesties.

In the end, it seems likely that the government will issue amnesties or pardon MILF fighters for crimes related to the conflict but not for any perpetrated in a personal capacity.

That changed somewhat on 16 February 2021, when President Duterte declared a general amnesty for members of armed groups who have committed crimes “because of their political belief” – a definition that logically includes the MILF. Still, since MILF affiliation often overlaps with clan or other allegiances, it may be difficult to determine who will benefit from the amnesty. In the end, it seems likely that the government will issue amnesties or pardon MILF fighters for crimes related to the conflict but not for any perpetrated in a personal capacity.

Notwithstanding the fits and starts of the government’s efforts in this area, the MILF’s reactions have been positive so far. The president’s February proclamation appears to have generated good-will within the group after such a long period of inertia. The MILF says some 1,000 members could be eligible for the recently announced amnesty.

Children from the indigenous population, southern Philippines. August 2017. CRISISGROUP

V. Building Momentum amid Uncertainty

While the political transition has taken centre stage in the Bangsamoro peace process over the last two years, the normalisation agenda is just as crucial to its success. Knocked off course by COVID-19, normalisation cannot be allowed to stagnate. With the first two phases of the decommissioning process complete, both Manila and the MILF need to regain the momentum that the pandemic sapped by turning their energy and attention to phase three of decommissioning and other vital elements of the peace agreement. Donors can help by boosting their support for the socio-economic aspects of normalisation at this crucial juncture.

A. Boosting the Delivery of Socio-economic and Development Benefits

For the Duterte administration, a key task is to deliver the socio-economic benefits to ex-rebels that it promised, consistent with the 2014 agreement, and that are key to motivating the MILF to disarm. Whatever additional work the government needs to complete with respect to a needs assessment, or seeking different agencies’ input to fine-tune the specific elements of the compensation package, it should finish without delay. If releasing the entire package is not feasible in the near term, Manila should offer ex-rebels at least some benefits – such as an ad hoc allowance, for example, or non-cash assistance in the form of scholarships or livelihood support – so as to soothe the frustration that threatens to grow in the MILF’s ranks and sow disaffection with the peace process.

Similarly, Manila should work closely with international partners and the MILF to kick off the Normalisation Trust Fund in order to speed up the camp transformation agenda and use the Joint Normalisation Committee to coordinate other socio-economic interventions in and outside the BARMM.

Donors, for their part, have a vital role to play at this fragile juncture. They should scale up initiatives that could bring a peace dividend through bigger and more tangible development projects for the Bangsamoro, particularly in the form of infrastructure such as roads, electricity or water systems in the six camp areas.

Coordination – within the government, among the MILF and international partners, and among donors themselves – on the use of the trust fund and development interventions more broadly is vital to ensure that programming avoids duplication. Cooperation is particularly important when it comes to the ambitious camp transformation program, given that the targeted areas are more prone to conflict. As noted, interventions should take into account local dynamics in various areas to avoid harm that could arise from uninformed project implementation. Conflict and needs assessments, community participation and local partners are vital ingredients for success.

Donors should treat all six camps on equal footing, while not neglecting poor and conflict-affected areas in central and western Mindanao, and bearing the following points in mind:
Socio-economic interventions may occur in actual conflict areas and thus need to be planned carefully with respect to security. Exchanges of gunfire over land are not uncommon, even if they do not always escalate into larger skirmishes. Militant groups are operating in the vicinities of the Bilal, Busrah and Omar camps and are also a potential threat to development projects, since they could either endanger implementation or win more recruits if the projects are derailed.

Donor initiatives should take into account the potential impact of aid on the social cohesion of Moro communities. Infighting among commanders, as has recently occurred in some camps, can happen.

Focusing on local rebel leaders as main intermediaries for development projects may appear practical, but needs assessments should also include other voices from the ground to ensure community participation and buy-in. Camps and communities that are particularly fragmented along kinship and political lines, such as Omar and Rajamuda, also require detailed conflict analysis by donors and their implementing partners before proceeding with development interventions.
Favouring some camps over others might result in frustrations among those left behind. To avoid ill-feeling, donors could work with local partners knowledgeable about the areas and focus, in partnership with the government and MILF, on financing initiatives that support public goods such as health, water and education projects, and carry less risk of becoming personal spoils.

Indigenous populations such as the Teduray-Lambangian consider Omar and Badre camps part of their ancestral domain. Apparently emboldened by the peace agreement, some MILF members have violently asserted themselves in indigenous areas with land claims, often resulting in displacement of the Teduray-Lambangian. Although development initiatives have begun consulting such indigenous communities more regularly, the overall focus on MILF communities means that much remains to be done in ensuring they are not forgotten. Interventions should ensure the indigenous groups’ participation in development planning, while the MILF-led transitional authority should do more about resolving these land issues.

B. Keeping Decommissioning on Track

The MILF should do all it can to encourage positive momentum on the normalisation track, pushing its members to move forward with decommissioning, and working to keep as close to the previous roadmap as possible regardless of whether the transition is extended or not. The group cannot be expected to move forward indefinitely without seeing more evidence of the promised peace dividend. But at least some further progress should be possible if Manila moves quickly to produce some additional benefits. Should concerns arise – for example due to the delay of the process or in relation to the decommissioning list for the third phase – the ex-rebels should raise them to the Independent Decommissioning Body.

To encourage internal cohesion, the MILF should also disseminate information to combatants and communities on normalisation. Doing so would help avoid misperceptions about decommissioning that could lead some MILF members to grab land, buy new weapons with the cash received or assert themselves violently over minority groups. The MILF should also discipline its commanders involved in feuds and strive to improve relations with indigenous communities.
C.Improving Stability and Preventing Conflict

Both the national government and MILF need to do more to improve stability in pockets where violence – such as communal conflicts and feuds – persists, especially as clashes could easily draw in MILF combatants who retain their weapons. The Joint Peace and Security Teams could help. They will be deploying to well-chosen sites where their presence can have a strong impact, and where the sight of impartial government and MILF forces working hand in hand could boost the public’s confidence in law and order in the new autonomous region. The two sides should now speed up the deployment of these hybrid units and agree on their exact mandate and operating procedures.

The national government should also hasten the disbandment of private armies through the government task force established for this purpose, as these militias remain a considerable challenge to achieving local peace, more so in the run-up to the 2022 elections. It is, however, crucial that Manila coordinate such efforts with the MILF-led regional authorities to avoid incidents that could draw in MILF forces.

For its part, the interim regional government will need to step up its efforts at conflict prevention. Local government units and the MILF have managed to settle some disputes through their own channels, but the successes are often temporary and disconnected from regional institutions that should ideally regulate and supervise these efforts. Rather than relying on improvised bodies to manage tensions on an ad hoc basis or reacting to bouts of violence by providing relief to displaced people, the interim government should use existing local conflict resolution mechanisms such as Peace and Order Councils at the village and municipal levels.

Within the regional government, the ministry of public order and safety, in particular, should work toward institutionalising such mechanisms of local governments, in tandem with local dispute resolution bodies at the municipal level. It should develop more links with MILF commanders, support the Joint Teams by offering dispute resolution training, and develop clear plans with benchmarks to stabilise hotspots.

Looking beyond the MILF to others involved in or affected by conflict in the region will also be important. The high incidence of land conflict across the Bangsamoro requires particular attention. Manila should fulfil core recommendations of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission related to protecting the indigenous ancestral domain by properly surveying disputed land and setting up a land ownership database in the Bangsamoro. Strong regional ministries should also play a key role in advancing dispute resolution. As noted, the interim government should also give particular attention to land conflicts in or around the six recognised camps and ensure that the rights of indigenous communities are respected. Passage of the pending code for indigenous people by the BARMM would be a welcome step in that direction.

VI. Conclusion

The 2014 peace agreement in the Bangsamoro envisioned a holistic approach that would turn the page on decades of war once a new autonomous region was created. Two years in, the political transition has made impressive progress, but decommissioning and other facets of normalisation lag behind, with potentially grave consequences.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unwelcome distraction, which may now translate into an extension of the transition period. Whether that happens or not, the roadmap should remain intact. Manila needs to keep its promises to extend an economic package to decommissioned combatants as demonstration of its commitment to the peace process. The MILF needs to remain committed to decommissioning – and resist the temptation to postpone the process even if the transition period is extended. Through their role in the interim regional administration, the ex-rebels should also focus on curbing local conflict and ensuring that religious and ethnic minorities benefit from a peaceful Bangsamoro along with the Moro majority.

In parallel, the national and regional governments need to urgently agree on their priorities in the development sphere. Donors have an important role to play. But the primary responsibility for a peaceful transition in the Bangsamoro – one that improves the lives of all its people – lies with Manila and the former insurgents now running the region. Both parties should remember the flexibility that made the peace agreement possible and work in that spirit of cooperation to keep the Bangsamoro free of armed conflict.

Manila/Brussels, 15 April 2021

Appendix A: Map of Main Moro Islamic Liberation Front Camps

Southern Philippines: 3 Injured in Fresh Bombings

From BenarNews (Apr 30, 2021): Southern Philippines: 3 Injured in Fresh Bombings (Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales)

An armored personnel carrier patrols in Maguindanao province following an improvised bomb blast, April 29, 2021. Mark Navales/BenarNews

Pro-Islamic State Filipino militants carried out more attacks in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, injuring two pro-government militia members and a civilian, the military said Friday.

Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) carried out the attacks because they oppose a peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former rebel group which controls an autonomous region in the south, according to officials and observers.

“We have three more casualties in attacks by these terrorists,” regional military spokesman Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar told BenarNews.

He said BIFF militants detonated a homemade bomb on Friday morning along a road near a residential area in Kitango, a village in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan. The blast injured a civilian.

One day earlier, militants exploded an improvised bomb that targeted a group of pro-government militia, injuring two.

The violence began Wednesday when a pair of explosions killed two women and injured six people, including four soldiers in the remote area of Maguindanao province.

The military identified the women as Bahria Alon, 40, and Lagabai Mohalidin, 24, who were traveling with BIFF spokesman Abu Jihad were killed when a bomb he was carrying prematurely exploded, adding Jihad was able to escape.

The blast forced at least 549 families to evacuate their homes for safer grounds, local disaster officials reported.

Attacks aimed at peace effort

The BIFF attacks were meant to derail the establishment of a joint peace and security team (JPST) – composed of police, military, and former MILF fighters, Baldomar said. The main job of the team is to pursue fighters linked to Islamic State (IS), including the BIFF.

The formation of the team, which is to serve until 2022, was part of an effort by the Philippine government and the MILF to sustain the peace process.

“Despite the violence since earlier this week, we have finally set up the JPST in Kitango,” Baldomar said. “Our enemies have been opposing the establishment as their movement will become limited.

“Our troops now are concentrating along the road, but we can still provide support in flushing out militants if needed,” he said.

A conflict monitoring group said the hostilities showed the failure of efforts linked to the peace deal between the government and the MILF.

“These clashes are the result of the serious flaws and fractures in the normalization agreement that is fueling non-stop violence and conflict in the region,” said Francisco Lara Jr., a senior adviser to International Alert Philippines, the local office of the London-based NGO that focuses on peace-building and conflict resolution efforts in hotspots worldwide.

“The normalization process is in bad shape – a complete mess based on what we’ve heard from those directly involved in it,” he said. “Those implementing it and those enabling its failed processes ought to stop now, take stock and reverse its disastrous policies and processes or share the blame for its tragic effects.”

He called the JPST a part of the normalization process that should have led to the decommissioning of all the MILF’s firearms.

As of last year, only about 30 percent of the estimated 40,000 firearms held by MILF members were surrendered and destroyed. Officials have said the former rebels have more firearms in their armory than claimed officially.

Behind schedule

In a report issued earlier this month, the International Crisis Group noted that the normalization process was behind schedule.

“Two years into a three-year transition period mapped out in a 2014 peace agreement, progress toward these goals, which the deal describes as ‘normalization,’ is lagging,” the report said.

“There are plenty of armed groups in the Bangsamoro that might exploit the moment’s fragility. A loss of momentum could also threaten what are currently reasonably peaceful relations among the majority Moro Muslims, Christians and other ethno-religious groups,” the report said.

Analysts and observers said some MILF members maintain ties to other militant fighters, including from the BIFF. The clashes were preceded by a meeting between the BIFF and one MILF commander ostensibly to discuss the joint monitoring team, Lara said, citing his own sources.

“Whether the meeting took place or not, the important issue here is that the military is being unfairly blamed for the violence and is being subjected to the ceasefire protocol by the same peace partners who now hold the reins,” Lara said, referring to the MILF-controlled Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Since January, International Alert has recorded more than 66,000 people displaced because of armed clashes in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Salibo, Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, and Shariff Saydona Mustapha, all in Maguindanao province.

Philippine authorities have blamed the BIFF, which splintered from the MILF and declared support for the IS, for the attacks.

In January, BIFF militants carried out two roadside bombings in the south that killed three and injured scores of people. In 2019, the group carried out a series of bomb attacks in the south targeting a market and a restaurant that injured more than two dozen people.

CPP: Palakasin ang kilusang manggagawa at manguna sa pakikibaka para sa demokrasya at kalayaan

Posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Website (Apr 30, 2021): Palakasin ang kilusang manggagawa at manguna sa pakikibaka para sa demokrasya at kalayaan

APRIL 30, 2021

Ang Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, ang partido ng uring proletaryadong Pilipino, ay mahigpit na sumasaludo sa uring manggagawa sa buong daigdig at sa mga manggagawang Pilipino ngayong Mayo Uno. Ginugunita natin ngayon ang Pandaigdigang Araw ng Paggawa sa gitna ng matinding krisis ng monopolyong kapitalismo sa buong mundo at papasidhing pang-aapi at pagsasamantala sa mga manggagawa at masang anakpawis. Pagtibayin natin ang ating determinasyon na isulong ang pakikibaka para ibagsak ang imperyalismo at isulong ang sosyalistang rebolusyon para pandayin ang bagong lipunan.

Humalaw tayo ng inspirasyon sa dakilang mga tagumpay ng Komuna ng Paris sa ika-150 taon nito, ang unang pagkakataon sa buong daigdig na nagtagumpay ang uring manggagawa sa pagpapabagsak sa reaksyunaryong estado ng burgesya, nagtatag ng pampulitikang kapangyarihan ng uring manggagawa at demokratikong namahala sa kanilang mga sarili. Ang mga aral ng Komuna sa pagsusulong ng sosyalistang rebolusyon at pagtatayo ng bagong lipunan ay tanglaw sa uring manggagawa ng Pilipinas.

Hinihingi ng kasalukuyang kalagayan na puspusang isulong ng uring manggagawang Pilipino ang pakikibaka ng sambayanan para sa demokrasya at pambansang kalayaan. Dahil sa matinding kahirapan sa kabuhayan at krisis sa pulitika ng naghaharing sistema, lalong nalantad ang bulok na kaibuturan ng sistemang malakolonyal at malapyudal, at nagpatingkad sa pangangailangang isulong ang rebolusyonaryong pagbabago na magwawakas sa kahirapan at pang-aapi sa mamamayan.

Patuloy na nananalanta ang pandemyang Covid-19 at dumarami ang Pilipinong nagkakasakit at napagkakaitan ng angkop na atensyong medikal dahil sa palpak na tugon ng rehimeng Duterte sa krisis sa pampublikong kalusugan. Winalang-bahala nito ang kapakanan ng mamamayan at pinagdamutan ng badyet ang libreng mass testing at pagpapagamot, sapat na kakayahan sa epektibong contact tracing, pagpapalakas ng mga pampublikong ospital at mga laboratoryo, pananaliksik at iba pang esensyal na pangangailangan sa paglaban sa pandemya. Ang mga manggagawa ang pinakabulnerable sa pandemya, kapwa sa loob ng mga pagawaan at lugar ng trabaho na kulang o walang sapat na kagamitan o sistema para sa ligtas na pagtatrabaho, gayundin sa loob ng nagsisiksikan nilang mga komunidad.

Habang namiminsala ang pandemya at nagtitiis sa wala ang mamamayan ay binubundat naman ni Duterte sa pampublikong pondo ang sariling pamilya at mga alipures. Pinalobo niya ang badyet ng militar at pulis upang bilhin ang katapatan ng mga heneral at matataas na upisyal, at gamitin ang AFP at PNP sa walang-habas na kampanya ng panunupil at pagpapatahimik sa mamamayang humihiyaw sa gitna ng malawakang krisis at kahirapan.

Walang-kaparis na krisis sa ekonomya ang kinasasadlakan ngayon ng bayan. Halos 11 milyon ang walang trabaho at nawalan ng kabuhayan. Lubhang napakababa ng sahod ng mga manggagawa. Makupad at lubhang kulang ang ayudang ipinamamahagi ng estado, laluna sa harap ng nagtataasang presyo ng mga bilihin. Pinabayaan ng rehimeng Duterte na mamulubi’t magutom ang taumbayan at tumungo sa mahahabang pila para sa tulong at pagkain. Ang krisis sa ekonomya ay kagagawan ng rehimeng US-Duterte na tumatangging magbigay ng dagdag-sahod, palaasa sa pangungutang, sagadsaring ang korapsyon at paglulustay ng pondo sa pulis at militar. Sa gitna ng pandemya, isinagasa nito ang batas na CREATE na pumabor sa kaltas-buwis sa malalaking negosyo, ibayong niluwagan ang liberalisasyon sa pag-aangat ng karneng bab oy na lalong nagsapeligro sa lokal na agrikultura, at inilabas ang EO 130 na magbibigay-daan sa walang-habas na pandarambong ng mga Chinese at iba pang dayong kumpanya sa rekursong mineral ng bansa.

Papabigat ang dagok nitong krisis sa mga manggagawa. Tumitindi ang pagsasamantala at pang-aapi sa kanila sa anyo ng pinababang sahod, kontraktwalisasyon at kawalan ng proteksyon sa mga lugar ng trabaho sa gitna ng pandemya. Sumasahol rin ang atake sa organisadong paggawa, kabilang ang pagdistrungka sa pagkakaisa ng mga manggagawa, pagmamanman sa mga unyon sa loob ng mga economic zone, pagpatay sa kanilang mga lider at pananakot sa kanilang mga kasapi.

Bahagi ang mga ito ng walang-tigil na atake ng mga armadong pwersa ng estado sa demoktratikong mga organisasyon ng mamamayan, sa tabing ng “kontra-insurhensya.” Habang papalapit na ang upisyal na pagtatapos ng termino ni Duterte, dumarami naman ang bilang ng mga pinapatay, inaaresto at nire-redtag o idinadawit sa armadong kilusan. Hawak ang Anti-Terror Law, nais ng rehimen na patahimikin ang sinumang tumututol sa kanyang pasistang paghahari, at ilatag ang mga kundisyon alinman para magpataw ng pasistang diktadura o kaya’y manipulahin ang eleksyong 2022 upang patagalin sa pwesto ang kanyang angkan at dinastiya.

Labis ang pangamba ni Duterte na singilin siya sa kanyang pagtataksil sa bayan, sa mabilis na pagkapawi sa soberanya ng Pilipinas sa harap ng pagyuko niya sa China at pagpayag na kamkamin ang lumalaking bahagi ng karagatang sakop ng eksklusibong sonang pang-ekonomya ng Pilipinas. Nilukot at isinaisantabi ni Duterte ang desisyon ng International Arbitral Tribunal na kumilala sa mga karapatan ng Pilipinas sa ilalim ng United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS). Kapalit ng mga pangakong pautang ng China at ng pakinabang niya sa pakikipagkunsabahan sa mga sindikato sa droga sa China, pumayag si Duterte na samsamin ng China ang yamang karagatan ng Pilipinas sa labis na kapinsalaan ng mga mangingisda at mamamayang Pilipino.

Dapat tumindig ang manggagawang Pilipino sa unahan ng demokratikong mga pakikibaka ng mamamayan, at magsilbing pinakasolidong bag-as ng kilusang masa para wakasan ang tiranikong paghahari ng pasistang rehimeng US-Duterte.

Dapat patuloy na itayo, palawakin at palakasin ang mga unyon at asosasyon ng mga manggagawa at isulong ang militanteng kilusang manggagawa. Kailangang palakasin ng mga manggagawa ang kanilang mga unyon upang matatag na labanan ang paninibasib ng mga pasistang pulis at sundalo sa kanilang hanay, at upang epektibong isulong ang kagyat na kahingian ng mga manggagawa para sa dagdag sahod at kaseguruhan sa trabaho. May kakagyatan ngayon ang hinihinging P100 pangkagipitang dagdag sahod sa harap ng mabilis na pagbulusok ng halaga ng piso at tumataas na presyo ng mga bayarin. Palagablabin ang apoy ng mga pakikibakang manggagawa sa mga pabrika at buo-buong enklabo sa iba’t ibang dako ng bansa.

Kaakibat nito, dapat tuluy-tuloy na pahigpitin ng mga manggagawang Pilipino ang pakikipagkapit-bisig nila sa demokratikong mga sektor kapwa sa kalunsuran at kanayunan. Dapat suportahan ang demokratikong mga kahilingan at mga pakikibaka ng masang Pilipino. Dapat patuloy nilang suportahan ang hinihingi ng mga manggagawang pangkalusugan na dagdag sweldo, hazard pay at mas malaking subsidyo para sa serbisyong pangkalusugan. Dapat ding palakasin ang pagsuporta sa hinihinging lupa ng mga magsasaka, pagpapababa ng upa sa lupa, pagwawakas sa usura at iba pang porma ng pagsasamantala sa kanayunan. Gayundin, ang panawagan ng mga bata at kabataan na ligtas nang magbukas ang mga eskwelahan, itaas ang sahod ng mga guro at dagdagan ng estado ang subsidyo sa edukasyon. Dapat ring malakas na tutulan ng kilusang manggagawa ang walang-lubay na pangungutang ng gubyerno sa mga dayuhan, ang paglaban sa lubhang malaking badyet sa binubundat na militar at pulis.

Dapat patatagin ang determinasyon ng mga manggagawa sa pamamagitan ng pagtataas ng kanilang maka-uri at pampulitikang kamulatan na ipaglaban ang pambansa at demokratikong mga adhikain ng sambayanang Pilipino. Isagawa ang malawakang kilusang pangkultura at pang-edukasyon para buhayin ang patriyotismo. Isagawa ang mga pag-aaral sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas at ang nagpapatuloy na pakikibaka ng sambayanang Pilipino para sa pambansang kalayaan mula sa kuko ng imperyalismo at mga galamay nito sa papet na estado. Isagawa ang malawakang pag-aaral sa kalagayan ng lipunang Pilipino at ang pangangailangan para sa pambansa-demokratikong rebolusyon.

Ibayong palalimin ang pagkakaugat ng Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas sa hanay ng mga manggagawa. Ipagpatuloy ang malawakang pagrerekrut ng mga manggagawa upang magsilbi silang mga proletaryong kadreng nasa unahan at gulugod ng mga makauring pakikibaka ng mga manggagawa. Dapat puspusang magrekrut ng mga aktibista at kadreng manggagawa para sa Bagong Hukbong Bayan upang magsilbing mga Pulang mandirigma at kumander nito.

Ang pagsusulong ng mga manggagawang Pilipino ng mga pakikibakang demokratiko at anti-imperyalista ay bahagi ng bumubulwak na kilusang anti-imperyalista at demokratiko sa buong mundo. Palatandaan ito ng pagkabulok ng pandaigdigang sistemang kapitalista at ang iniluluwal nitong malalim na krisis sa ekonomya, pasismo, rasismo at iba pang anyo ng pang-aapi at paninibasib sa mga manggagawa at masang anakpawis. Tungkulin ng mga rebolusyonaryong proletaryo na tumindig, magmulat, mamuno at dalhin ang malawakang mga kilusan sa rebolusyonaryong landas ng tunggalian ng mga uri.

Sa buong mundo, napakapaborable ng kalagayan para palakasin ang mga partido komunista at pamunuan ang malawakang mga pakikibaka at dalhin ang pandaigdigang sosyalistang rebolusyon sa bisperas ng panibagong pagdaluyong.

Mabuhay ang mga manggagawa at anakpawis sa buong mundo!

Mabuhay ang masang manggagawang Pilipino!

Mabuhay ang Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas!

Isulong ang demokratikong rebolusyong bayan!

CPP/NPA-SMROC: NPA’s armed struggle honors, lives up to Battle of Mactan’s nationalist legacy

Posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Website (Apr 30, 2021): NPA’s armed struggle honors, lives up to Battle of Mactan’s nationalist legacy


APRIL 30, 2021

The Regional Operations Command of the New People’s Army in Southern Mindanao is one with the Filipino people in celebrating April 27 as National Day Of Armed Valor to memorialize the valiant heroism of Datu Lapulapu and thousands more in the Battle of Mactan five centuries ago. Red commanders and fighters take pride that the revolutionary armed struggle of the NPA genuinely honors the quincentenary event, upholding its nationalist, anti-colonial and anti-reactionary spirit and tradition.

Around the region on April 27 and in the succeeding days, NPA units stood in formation to honor the Battle of Mactan as other units conducted political discussions on the history of the heroic battle and its significance in the continuing armed revolutionary struggle being waged by the NPA and the entire Filipino people.

The Battle of Mactan is a triumph of the ingenuity of guerilla warfare against a double-faced enemy that is far more superior in terms of troops and armaments. The enduring validation of this historic fact is one that every Red fighter can attest to. Under the AFP’s no let-up focused military operations in the region, enemy troops are constantly being forward-deployed deaf and blind to the social and military situations in NPA base areas, as Magellan and his men have been 500 years ago when they tried to land in Mactan. Despite the facade of its so-called retooled community service program, marauding AFP troops are deeply isolated from the masses for they serve the greed of landlords and imperialist interests, just as Magellan served the Spanish crown. The NPA’s firm adherence to its mass line of agrarian revolution and the defense of the Lumad’s ancestral land echo the anti-colonialist battlecry that mobilized Datu Lapulapu and a thousand others to resist with bows and arrows, krises, and iron-tipped spears.

Throughout our history, it was to the fatal detriment of the militarily superior colonizers and oppressors that they mocked and underestimated the revolutionary armed resistance of a united oppressed people. Three centuries since Datu Lapulapu’s victorious stand in the shores of Mactan, Filipinos finally ended Spanish colonization and would later continue fighting US imperialism and Japanese occupation with nationwide guerilla armed resistance. The present puppet Duterte regime is no different from this list of enemies of the Filipino people, as it continues to vilify the Red fighters, calling them bandits or terrorists, in vain attempt to negate the legitimacy and relevance of revolutionary armed struggle.

The people’s militia and the masses in the region, especially in Lumad areas, mining and agri-venture plantation communities, easily grasp the significance of the Battle of Mactan and liken its relevance in their present struggle against large foreign mining, expansion of monocrop plantations, widespread land conversion and projects under the Build, Build, Build program. The Lumad’s pangayaw especially takes inspiration in Datu Lapulapu’s guerilla tactics, as the former’s superior knowledge of terrain and cunning use of indigent weapons forced back and continue to hold logging and mining companies at bay.

Red fighters around the region likewise find inspiration in Datu Lapulapu and his people’s resistance to strengthen the unity of the masses in denouncing Duterte’s outright treachery in kowtowing to Chinese interests in the West Philippine Sea. The masses are outraged that the fascist regime easily wields terror to silence the democratic demands of the people but cannot stand up to or even denounce China’s military intrusion and pillage of our economic resources.

Moreover, the Battle of Mactan reminds us that oppressors around the world have not changed tact in resolving the crises of their class societies. Political, economic and military aggression are still very much the default action of imperialist countries like the US and China, while semi-feudal and semi-colonial client states like in the Philippines still subject their peoples to neoliberal exploitation and fascism to maintain political power. It is in this vein that the Filipino masses reject historical revisionists, pacifists, Duterte’s trolls and all reactionaries that vilify justness, relevance and urgency of armed struggle.

The Battle of Mactan is ground zero for the Filipino people’s succeeding and continuing armed resistance against oppressors and colonizers for independence and national democracy. It is a point in our history which lives on 500 years since and many years more in the future until revolutionary armed struggle fulfills its mission as the only means by which the toiling masses can overthrow the ruling class, sieze political power and build a just society.

CPP/NDF Ilocos: Duterte refuses to condemn Chinese incursions for own interests

Posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Website (Apr 30, 2021): Duterte refuses to condemn Chinese incursions for own interests


APRIL 30, 2021

NDF-Ilocos: A friend for greed, a friend indeed

Duterte refuses to condemn Chinese incursions for own interests

Rodrigo Duterte blabbers about the West Philippine Sea (WPS) like the issue of Philippine territory and sovereignty is a personal one. Last Wednesday’s presidential drivel actually betrayed not just his ambivalence but also his lack of concern for the fisher folk whose livelihood and lives are put at risk because of his subservience to China. Vague statements of ‘Atin talaga yan,’ ‘Mayroon tayong utang na loob (sa China),’ ‘I have the interest of my country to protect,’ and ‘Tignan natin,’ did nothing to shine any light on what he actually intends to do. At the end of it all, he makes excuses for China and calls it ‘a good friend.’

But the National Democratic Front – Ilocos (NDF-Ilocos), along with the fishing communities within the region, begs to differ. The imperialist Chinese government cannot be considered a friend for it threatens to harm Filipinos that venture to fish within their own territorial waters. It is not a friend of the Filipino nation as long as it continues to occupy and exploit Philippine marine territories despite logical boundaries and international rulings. It could never be a friend if it takes advantage of the country’s maladaptive political economy by extending onerous debts to its corrupt officials. The NDF-Ilocos condemns the Duterte regime for insisting that imperialist China is a friend in order to advance its own profit and position but to the detriment of the Filipino people.

Friendship Test

This relationship, however, is on the rocks. His docility towards China cannot go unchallenged. The United States (US) itself will not allow the Duterte regime to fully align itself with China as the latter pursues regional and global dominance. With US military aid amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the ties between the US Army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) cannot be dismissed so easily.

It is reasonable to expect that Duterte’s inaction will cause discontent among individual AFP officers, both retired and active. That is, if such has not happened already. Even the Duterte regime must be expecting such a scenario. Just last week, the AFP was hard-pressed to issue a quick denial when news of alleged withdrawal of support surfaced. Thereafter, by end-April, the National Task Force for the WPS finally beefed up maritime patrols in areas where Chinese vessels are already positioned since early March. Duterte’s tottering regime cannot risk the ire of its military troops but still would not risk losing China’s favor. The cliff-hanger promise of ‘Tignan natin…’ is enough evidence of that.

Dodging Criticism

Such ambiguity sounds even more lukewarm and inadequate after Duterte shamelessly attempted to deflect criticism. He had the temerity to use the regime of Noynoy Aquino as scapegoat just so he could distance himself from any blame. While the previous administration did face the same issues of territory and sovereignty inadequately, any self-respecting present regime would address a current problem by taking concrete action and not by shifting blame to a regime that ended almost six years ago.

Yet, deflecting criticism is a staple tactic for the Duterte regime. His administration even used the same maneuver to downplay the recent spike in Covid-19 cases. When the Philippines reached a million cases, Duterte lackeys insensitively cited India as having a far more difficult bout with Covid-19 than the Philippines. Also, it was revealed that Duterte himself instructed government news agencies to report that the country is ‘faring better than other countries in addressing the pandemic.’ Instead of focusing its energies on correctly addressing the medical crisis and its ensuing economic burdens, the Duterte regime chooses to delude itself and to attempt to deceive the Filipino people and the world in the process.


Duterte is obviously caught between the proverbial rock and hard place; or as the elders would say, ‘Naipit sa nag-uumpugang bato.’ But then again, this is to be expected when one puppet regime decides to spread itself thin. Duterte’s own bloated ego is his downfall for the only thing worse than being the lapdog of an imperialist country is being the lapdog of two rival imperialist countries.

Meanwhile, legal and underground movements continuously and steadily march forward in step with the advance of the armed revolution. Unlike Duterte, who is yet to issue anything closely resembling a condemnation, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines strongly renounces China’s incursions and US’ self-serving intervention. It calls on all patriotic elements to assert the establishment of a coalition of nations that will unitedly stand up against China’s bullying and aggression, without the intrusion of other imperialist countries that only seek to use the issue for their own gain.

The issue of territory and sovereignty has the potential to turn a greater number of the middle-class against the useless Duterte. They will join the ranks of peasants, workers and intellectuals and will then call for his ouster. The madman will have no other option but to abandon his spot between boulders or be crushed by the force of the Filipino people.

Assert Philippine territory and sovereignty!

End the treachery and ineptitude! Oust Duterte now!

Strengthen ranks and advance the People’s Revolution!

Kalinaw News: AFP Mobile Kitchen feeds families in Quezon City

Posted to Kalinaw News (Apr 30, 2021): AFP Mobile Kitchen feeds families in Quezon City

CAMP AGUINALDO, Quezon City – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) through its Mobile Kitchen project provided hot meals for lunch and dinner to individuals and families in need at Barangay Socorro, Quezon City on Thursday, April 29.

“The AFP Mobile Kitchen is one of our soldiers’ humanitarian actions to help and provide assistance to our less fortunate kababayans as our nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” AFP Chief of Staff General Cirilito Sobejana said.

A total of 3,000 food packs were given to Camp Aguinaldo’s immediate neighbors during noon and evening meals. The beneficiaries which included street sweepers, pedicab drivers, and families living in nearby slums were identified by the Socorro Local Government Unit.

The AFP has been conducting community-based efforts through the Kapwa Ko Sagot Ko campaign since the pandemic started in March of last year. It seeks to alleviate the plight of poor communities greatly affected by the pandemic.

The AFP Mobile Kitchen as part of this campaign is staffed by soldiers with culinary training while civilian volunteers help in the preparation of meals. It is the asset’s first operation under the newly-activated AFP Logistics Support Command led by Brigadier General Fernando Felipe.

The project is a joint undertaking of the AFP Civil Relations Service, Joint Task Force-NCR, and the AFP Quartermaster General. The 7th Civil Relations Group and 11th Civil Military Operations Battalion provided manpower as personnel from the Quezon City Police District assisted in the traffic and implementation of health and safety protocol during the activity.

The food was sponsored by the AFP-DND Sojourners Club, Master in National Security Administration Regular Class 52 and the Tanging Yaman Foundation.

The activity further enhances the overall government effort to assist citizens during the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in NCR. It is also a bid to maintain COVID-19 protocols which limit the movements of civilians and to help arrest the spread of the coronavirus.

“The AFP will continue to partner with well-meaning individuals, organizations and companies to sustain the noble initiative for our citizens. We welcome those who wish to contribute and be part of the AFP’s Community Kitchen whether through the use of military resources or donations,” General Sobejana said.

[Kalinaw News is the official online source of information on the pursuit for peace in the Philippines This website is a property of the Civil-Military Operations Regiment, Philippine Army located at Lawton Avenue, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. Contact us:]

5 rights activists sued for child abuse post bail in Davao

From MindaNews (Apr 30. 2021): 5 rights activists sued for child abuse post bail in Davao (By ANTONIO L. COLINA IV)

Tension escalated at the UCCP Haran compound along Fr. Selga Street in Davao City on Saturday , January 25, 2020, when alleged relatives of Lumad families from Kapalong and Talaingod, Davao del Norte and San Fernando in Bukidnon, barged through the evacuation center. The Pasaka Group Confederation of Lumads claimed the alleged relatives were members of the Alamara, a paramilitary group. Photo by BING GONZALES of Mindanao Times

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 April) – Five of the six human rights activists who were ordered arrested last April 21 by the Regional Trial Court-Branch 12 in Davao City posted bail on Thursday.

They are facing charges of child abuse in relation to the presence of Lumad evacuees inside the Haran Evacuation Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Davao City.

In an order dated April 29, Presiding Judge Dante A. Baguio ordered the authorities to desist from arresting Bishop Hamuel Tequis, Rev. Daniel Palicte, Ephraim Malazarte, Lindy Trenilla, and Grace Avila after the five accused filed a cash bond worth P300,000 or at P60,000 each.

Jong Monzon, Secretary-General of PASAKA Confederation of Lumad Organizations in South Mindanao Region,
one of the six accused “administrators and personalities” of Haran, did not post bail.

The judge set the arraignment and pre-trial of the six accused at 8:30 a.m. of July 16, 2021.

In a statement, Police Regional Office Davao director BGen. Filmore B. Escobal said the arrest warrant was issued for violation of Republic Act 7610, also known as Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act or Anti-Child Abuse Law.

He said the accused were responsible for the death of an infant inside the evacuation center during the pandemic and the failure to report the condition of children suffering illnesses and diseases to the City Health Office.

“Our ultimate aim is to end the exploitation of IPs (indigenous peoples) by fake revolutionaries, and UCCP Haran Administrators could be of help in achieving it. If the administrators of Haran could just use their voice to discourage IPs from supporting fake revolutionaries, they could just let them go back to their community, the people there would have been living in a suitable environment now,” he said.

He said several attempts have been made since 2015 to “rescue” the Lumads taking refuge at the evacuation center due to the complaints from their leaders and families that their relatives were allegedly brought to Haran from their homes.

“There were allegations that personalities behind UCCP Haran are exploiting the IPs and utilizing them for activities that are against the government. While some IP minors are being engaged as NPAs (New People’s Army),” he said.

He said families housed inside the evacuation center were going through “a tough situation, with limited food and water and deplorable sanitation.”

Despite the closure of the Salugpongan schools for the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) in Mindanao, learning continues even in makeshift classrooms at the evacuation center in the United Church of Christ of the Philippines’ Haran compound in Davao City. Photo taken in July 2019 by BING GONZALES

As of 1:45 p.m. Friday, Jay Apiag, Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region secretary-general, has yet to comment on the incident.

In a statement Friday, the Promotion of Church People’s Response called the charges against the accused another example of the “weaponization of the law under the Duterte administration.”

“The Promotion of Church People’s Response stands in solidarity with the UCCP and the affected Lumad to call for peace-building and healthy resolution of any identified weaknesses in the administration of the UCCP-HARAN ministry with displaced Lumad. We stand firmly on the imperatives of Christian faith that guide the mission and ministries of Bishop Hamuel Tequis and other leaders of the UCCP.

“Furthermore, we sound the alarm on these latest efforts to label as ‘terrorism’ what is clearly Church ministry; this is another manifestation of the clear and present dangers for increased repression and oppression under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and other similar laws,” the statement added. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)

P146-M BARMM education programs to benefit ex-MILF members

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 30. 2021): P146-M BARMM education programs to benefit ex-MILF members (By Edwin Fernandez)

EDUCATION FOR ALL BANGSAMORO. BARMM Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal (seated) and his staff show the MOA between OPPAP and BARMM that will uplift the lives of former combatants in terms of learning. Under the education package, ex-MILF combatants and their dependents stand to benefit from PHP146-million worth of educational assistance from the government. (Photo courtesy of MBHTE-BARMM)

As part of the normalization process, former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members stand to benefit from PHP146.8-million worth of educational projects to be implemented by the government.

Mohagher Iqbal, minister of education in the Bangsamoro Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM),
said Friday the region’s leadership is determined to prioritize education as it is key to Bangsamoro development.

This came after the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE) on Thursday.

The agreement covers the PHP56.5-million Bangsamoro Grants-In-Aid Higher Education Program (BGIAHEP), and the PHP90.3-million Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program
for decommissioned combatants (DCs) and their dependents, including selected residents from the six previously recognized MILF camps.

“OPAPP and MBHTE are in the process of identifying and determining the recipients and target areas,” said Iqbal, concurrent GPH-MILF peace panel co-chairperson.

Beneficiaries will receive subsidies for tuition and other school fees for semester and summer classes, monthly stipend, book allowance, and learning support, among others, he added.

On the other hand, ALS is classified under the umbrella of socio-economic development for DCs and their communities, and other members of the community of the MILF camps.

Under the MOA, the MBHTE will help higher education institutions and government organizations to ensure accessible quality education in the BARMM.

Under the normalization track of the GPH–MILF peace process, the program basically aims to uplift the lives of decommissioned MILF combatants, their families, and their community members.

It is also part of the many follow-through interventions of the national government after each combatant obtained the transitional cash package worth PHP100,000.

Asked for comments, BARMM parliament member Akmad Abas, former commander of the MILF Eastern Mindanao Front, said he was elated over the development, saying the peace process "is really working. We welcome this good news. I will help spread it to MILF communities in Central Mindanao."

Iqbal gave the assurance that the MBHTE will strive to further cater and serve every Bangsamoro especially those who fought in this endeavor toward self-determination.

“It is our way to pay the legacy and service that they have contributed towards sustainable peace in the region,” he said.