A small step closer to MILF military disengagement?


Photo courtesy of Mark Navales, Creative Commons

On May 20th the Philippine House Ad Hoc Committee passed the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which approved the creation of the new autonomous political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).  The draft of the basic law was the product of the comprehensive peace agreement signed by both the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the MILF) in 2014. This came after 17 years of on/off negotiations between the two parties, and was based on the original framework agreement developed in 2012.

As noted by the International Crisis Group, the House appropriations committee approved the basic law funding on 26 May, and the House of Representatives will soon debate the law, with a target to formally pass this by June 11 when congress enters recess.  Whilst this is the case, Senate President Franklin Drilon expressed on Saturday that he is unsure as to whether the Senate will be able to meet its self-imposed deadline, stressing the importance of the bill being passed by October.  However, should the deadline be moved to October, this further constricts the already short period from the transition of the ARMM to the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity.  Should this occur, this would leave the MILF’s transitional body less than 5 months to oversee the transition from the ARMM to Bangsamoro- an incredibly ambitious time frame given the MILF’s hopes of a three-year period.

However, yesterday on June 2 the peace panels of both the government and MILF announced the creation of a Task Force that would oversee development programmes for militants in an attempt to facilitate return to civilian life.   The Government chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer stated that the Task Force was mandated to ‘undertake all efforts related to socio-economic and development programmes’ and to ‘assist the Panels to identify and implement socio-economic priorities and development projects’ for decommissioned MILF combatants and their communities.  The Task Force agreement is in line with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).  Similar to traditional DDR processes, under the CAB the MILF militants would undertake a gradual decommissioning programme where weapons would be ‘put beyond use’ and return to civilian life.  In an important consideration often not undertaken in all DDR processes, there will be special socio-economic and development programmes for decommissioned women auxiliary forces of the insurgency.

The establishment of the Task Force is positive news in terms of facilitating combatant demobilisation and reintegration.  However, delays in the decommissioning programme has led to delays in a critical component- the hand over of MILF weapons.  Under decommissioning guidelines, the process is done in four phases.  Phase 1 is the ceremonial turning in of 75 high-powered weapons.  This was supposed to be conducted in February this year is a symbolic ceremony, however the clash in Mamasapano, Mindanao postponed the ceremony.  Theoretically, by the time of the Bangamoro Basic Law’s ratification, 30 percent of the MILF’s weapons and combatants would have decommissioned in Phase 2.  This is followed by Phase 3, in which 35 percent will follow after the Bangsamoro police is created.  Finally, the remainder is under Phase 4 when the exit agreement is signed and the Bangsamoro government is established.

The issue that emerges is that at present, it remains uncertain as to when, and if, the Bangsamoro bill will be passed in Congress.  Currently, there has been no clear announcement of a specific date as to when the ceremonial handover of weapons (Phase 1) will be held, marking the commencement of the decommissioning process.  In fact, on Tuesday concerns were expressed that elements of the MILF may still be armed leading up to the election of the Bangsamoro government in 2016.  Despite the establishment of the Task Force, it is critical that Phase 1 is implemented in a timely fashion as a symbolic start to the decommissioning process.  Whereas there has been key progress in the establishment of the political entity, this momentum should be used to simultaneously to strengthen the tenets of implemented demobilisation processes- including getting those weapons.