Gov’t to fast-track normalization program for ex-MILF members

By Priam Nepomuceno

August 14, 2023, 11:13 am

MANILA – The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) said the Marcos administration is determined to expedite the implementation of the Normalization Program that aims to uplift the conditions of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants, their families and communities.

In a statement over the weekend, the agency said this commitment was made during the 10th meeting of the Inter-Cabinet Cluster Mechanism on Normalization (ICCMN) held on Aug. 10.

Secretary Antonio Ernesto Lagdameo Jr., Special Assistant to the President, who also serves as ICCMN co-chairperson, said he is honored to take part in the administration's commitment to lasting peace in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

“As we look back on our first year, it is important to take stock of our accomplishments and ensure that we build on the momentum we have built in our communities,” he stressed.

Lagdameo also commended the efforts of the ICCMN member agencies in fulfilling their commitments to the Normalization Program.

"I note the efforts of several partners in government in providing tangible socio-economic support for decommissioned combatants and for infrastructure improvements on acknowledged former MILF camps,” he added.

Lagdameo also stressed that it is important that we treat our progress as steps towards the complete fulfillment of the national government deliverables.

He also called on ICCMN member agencies “to ensure that committed deliverables are met in the near-term and that those facing significant challenges due to budgetary constraints or implementing agency absorptive capacity are flagged at the soonest possible opportunity.”

“We possess a moral imperative, cloaked in the aspirations of our countrymen eager to lift themselves from years of conflict to ensure that these goals are met,” Lagdameo said.

Meanwhile, OPAPRU chief and ICCMN co-chairperson Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. thanked ICCMN member agencies for continuing to implement various socioeconomic interventions under the Normalization Program for FY 2023.

These agencies include the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, which is conducting its Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for decommissioned MILF combatants; the Department of Labor and Employment which is carrying out its Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) Program; the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), which is providing birth registration assistance to decommissioned combatants (DCs); the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) that is constructing community irrigation systems in MILF communities; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which is helping former combatants through its Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP).

Galvez urged ICCMN member agencies to continue implementing their interventions in 2024, as he also cited the initiatives that will continue to be carried out by the OPAPRU in 2024 under the National Expenditure Program.

These projects include immediate cash assistance for DCs under the fourth phase of decommissioning; study grants for 1,050 DCs; the provision of health insurance premiums and the conduct of Alternative Learning System (ALS) for DCs.

Moreover, the OPAPRU, through its PAyapa at MAsagaNAng Pamayanan (PAMANA) Program, will build a fish port, five evacuation centers, seven bridges, 11 roads and 15 water systems in the 33 core barangays within the six previously-acknowledged MILF camps.

During the meeting, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa cited the major accomplishments of his department under the Normalization Program.

These include producing 15 registered midwives who are the offspring of MILF combatants; the 25 percent completion of rural health infrastructures projects; the processing of the PhilHealth membership of combatants; and the continuous construction of health, primary care, and other special facilities. Minister of Interior and Local Government Naguib Sinarimbo also expressed BARMM’s willingness to allocate resources for the Normalization Program’s implementation.

According to Sinarimbo, the next step for the national and the Bangsamoro is “to look at what programs can be delivered to these [MILF] communities so that we’ll get a more holistic picture of what we can actually deliver to the combatants both at the level of the national government and BARMM government.

“[W]e are open to doing attribution of our programs to complement the national govt programs for the combatants and communities,” he added. Lagdemeo, meanwhile, commended the member agencies’ significant contribution to the Normalization Program, noting “we now have all the agencies here that are necessary to get BARMM moving.”

He emphasized that the implementation of the Normalization Program is now in full blast and continues to gain momentum. Lagdameo explained that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was passed in 2014, while the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which operationalizes the CAB, was only ratified in 2019.

He added that the implementation of the Normalization Program was also affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 which pushed back its timeline.

Lagdameo underscored the need for all stakeholders to work together to ensure the successful implementation of the Normalization Program, and consequently, realize the BARMM’s full economic potential.

“Everyone is willing to help, so let’s start with that today and forget about yesterday. Everyone is here, we have the agencies that want to commit resources. There are plenty of things that we didn't see in the BARMM that are already there. That's why I would like to thank everyone for being here and all the agencies,” he said.

Galvez, for his part, lauded the ICCMN for a job well done, particularly for its major contributions to bringing sustainable peace and development to the BARMM.

“As the President said in his SONA (State of the Nation Address), we are proud of the progress that the BARMM has made. This is made possible because of everyone’s cooperation and hard work to achieve peace and progress in BARMM,” he said.

Galvez also thanked the ICCMN for its "unwavering commitment for the rollout of the Normalization Program."

"Each ICCMN member-agency has a crucial role to play in building a sustainable and progressive future for the BARMM. Our shared responsibility and strong partnership have brought us this far in ensuring the successful implementation of the Normalization track. Let us stay the course and carry on with our determination and all-out support from ICCMN agencies,” he added.

The ICCMN was created to ensure the timely, appropriate and efficient implementation of the Normalization Program under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) through close collaboration and greater synergy among national line agencies.

The body was established through Executive Order (EO) 79 issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on April 24, 2019. To ensure the gains achieved by the ICCMN, the Marcos administration issued EO 6 in 2022, which aims to strengthen the body.

The ICCMN is tasked to ensure a whole-of-government approach to generate funding and resources needed to implement the Normalization Program, and fully transform the combatants and their families into peaceful and productive members of society. (PNA)