DECOMMISSIONED. A former MILF combatant (right) belonging to the third phase of the decommissioning process undergoes the procedure at the old capitol grounds in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao province on Monday (Nov. 8, 2021) under the facilitation of the international decommissioning body. Some 5,000 former MILF fighters (Inset), which form part of the targeted 14,000, are set for deactivation in the third phase that will continue up to January next year. (Photos courtesy of OPAPP)

SULTAN KUDARAT, Maguindanao – The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with the help of the International Decommissioning Body (IDB), on Monday started decommissioning the third batch of MILF combatants here.

Former members of MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) patiently waited for their turn here to hand over their firearms for safekeeping and deactivation later.

The IDB will safely keep the firearms while other government agencies will attend to the reintegration process of the GPH-MILF peace agreement.

Those who were decommissioned on Monday were part of the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 former MILF fighters set for decommissioning until December this year. Some 9,000 others will undergo processing by early next year.

Undersecretary David Diciano, chairman of the GPH peace implementing panel, and his counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF peace panel chair, led the opening ceremonies held at 8 a.m. at the old provincial capitol building in Barangay Crossing Simuay here.

Diciano said aside from the decommissioning of combatants, the government is determined to push with the other aspects of the peace process.

"The panels are also committed to the implementation of all other components for the full transformation of the combatants and their communities in the Bangsamoro," Diciano said.

"The normalization, including the process of decommissioning, is and has always been a joint effort between the GPH and the MILF," he added.

Iqbal, concurrent education minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, has stressed the need for both parties to continue with the commitment and the active participation of third parties to ensure the peace process will move forward.

"Today, our determination to fulfill the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) led us to a critical component of the normalization process -- and that is the third phase of decommissioning," Iqbal said.

"We are grateful that the GPH-MILF (peace process) is enforced by [a] robust partnership and commitment by stakeholders. I thank our local and international partners for the unwavering support," Iqbal, who also served as chief MILF peace negotiator, added.

The IDB, led by Turkish Ambassador His Excellency Ahmet Idem Akay, facilitated the decommissioning, the third since the peace accord was forged in 2014.

"We would like to congratulate the GPH and MILF for attaining yet another important chapter in the peace process not only in Mindanao but in the entire Filipino nation and beyond, "Akay said.

"The implementation of the decommissioning process despite the pandemic is a testament of the commitment of parties to attain peace in the Bangsamoro," the visibly optimistic Turkish envoy added.

He assured both sides that the IDB and the international community will continue what it had started until sustainable peace is achieved in Mindanao.

While here, government leaders, the MILF, the BARMM, and peace advocates signed the "Wall of Commitment for the Phase 3 Decommissioning Process of MILF Combatants and Weapons," as a symbol of support for the success of the government peace process.

Health protocols set forth by the BARMM Ministry of Health, including coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) swab testing for all the attendees, were strictly observed during the program held at the old capitol building here.

Others in attendance were Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Director Farrah Grace Naparan; GPH Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) chair Brig. Gen. Antonio Nafarrete; GPH Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) Chairman Maj. Gen. Nickson Muksan; and IDB Vice-Chair William Hovland.

Also present were BARMM Minister of Finance Eduard Guerra, co-chair of the MILF Joint Normalization Committee (JNC); lawyer Laisa Masuhud-Alamia, co-chair of the GPH Task Force for Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC); and BARMM Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communication Von Al Haq, concurrent co-chair of the MILF Joint Peace and Security Committee, among others.

A total of 40,000 combatants are expected to be decommissioned by the end of 2022. (PNA)