Philippine's President Rodrigo Duterte
Philippine's President Rodrigo Duterte (2nd R) along with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Murad Ebrahim (3rd R) and other government officials inspect handed-over weapons by MILF rebels during the decommissioning ceremony in Sultan Kudarat town, Maguindanao province, in Southern island of Mindanao on September 7, 2019. Muslim rebels in the mainly Catholic Philippines began handing over their guns to independent foreign monitors on September 7, as part of a treaty aimed at ending a decades-long separatist insurgency that has left about 150,000 people dead. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters who will be demobilised under the peace agreement with the government will receive P1 million (Dh70,784) in assistance.

Nograles, during ceremonies attended by President Rodrigo Duterte to witness the laying down of arms of 1,060 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants in Simuay, Maguindanao on Saturday evening, said the number of combatants that were demobilised represent only a portion of the 12,000 MILF fighters that should be decommissioned by March 2020 under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) timetable.

“The 12,000 combatants and their families are set to receive between half a million to P1 million in financial assistance on top of provisions for housing, livelihood assistance, skills development training, scholarships, employment opportunities, PhilHealth [state health insurance] coverage, conditional cash transfers, and documentation such as birth certificates and postal IDs,” Nograles said.

Some qualified MILF combatants will be absorbed into the Philippine armed forces and the regional police.

The event in Simuay was the second phase of the decommissioning process. The third phase is expected to be completed by next year with the remaining MILF forces to be decommissioned before the signing of the Exit Agreement in 2022.

Duterte, who witnessed the decommissioning process along with MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim, said: “Today we mark another important milestone in the history of the Bangsamoro peace process.”

During the event, Ebrahim presented 920 guns of the MILF, consisting of small arms as well as crew-served weapons, to the president.

The Moro peace process made a significant leap during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III when the MILF and the then government signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in March 2014.

The CAB is a multi-phased road map for freedom from strife in Mindanao, which for more than half a century had been mired in conflict. While most of the secessionist fighting in the past had largely involved the Western and Central Mindanao region, their impact in the island’s overall peace was substantial as development programmes had been difficult to implement.

According to Ebrahim, the decommissioning “is not a sign of capitulation” but rather a symbol of their organisation’s sincerity and determination to push forward the Bangsamoro peace process.

“I would like to emphasise that we have not given up what we used to fight for. It is simply to demonstrate our full commitment to fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities in the peace agreement we signed with the government,” Ebrahim said.

Over the course of the several decades old conflict, first between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front from the 1970s to 1996 and the MILF, more than 200,000 combatants and non-combatants were killed.