PEACE TALKS: GOVT BARRACKS FOR MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT (MILF) FIGHTERS’ FIREARMS READY FOR USE

First of 11 for decommissioned weapons 

CAMP ABUBAKAR, Barira, Maguindanao — The first of eleven Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) barracks to be built in seven provinces across Mindanao was officially turned over to the Joint Peace and Security Committee (JPSC) last Wednesday in this former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stronghold.

JPST BARRACKS. Officials and members of the Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) pose after the official turnover of the first of 11 JPST barracks to the Joint Peace and Security Committee at Camp Abubakar, Barira, Maguindanao on Feb. 12, 2020. The facility will serve as headquarters of the JPST team tasked to secure the decommissioned weapons. (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)
The barracks are being constructed with funding support from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) through its Support to Peacebuilding and Normalization (SPAN) Program.
Newly-installed JPSC co-chair, Brig. Gen. Francisco Ariel Felicidario III, who also co-chairs the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities – Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (CCCH-AHJAG), accepted the barracks on behalf of the JPSC.
The facility shall serve as the headquarters of the first JPST team which has been tasked to safeguard weapons turned over by members of the MILF-Bangsamoro who have undergone the process of decommissioning.
The decommissioned firearms are now kept in the Secured Arms and Storage Area (SASA) inside the camp under the oversight of the International Decommissioning Body (IDB).
The JPST team, composed of 15 members each from the MILF-BIAF, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), has been deployed in the area for almost a week.
Symbol of trust in peace process
OPAPP Undersecretary David B. Diciano, head of the Joint Normalization Division and Chair of the GPH Peace Implementing Panel and Enrico Gaveglia, UNDP deputy resident representative, led the turnover of the facility.
“Today’s turnover of the first of 11 JPST barracks that will be established in mutually agreed areas symbolizes our desire to ensure the implementation of the security component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB),” Diciano said.
Diclano said the decommissioned weapons “represents the decades of armed struggle of the Bangsamoro People.”
“And now that they have been put to rest, they will serve as a reminder to all of us of the sacrifices made by our Moro brothers and sisters in order to uplift the lives of their people,” he said. “The laying down of these firearms are concrete proof of the Bangsamoro People’s trust and confidence in the peace agreement forged between the government and the MILF.”
The JPSC coordinates with the GPH and MILF implementing panels on security arrangements, develops policies and operational guidelines for creating a more effective partnership among JPST members, and carries out security arrangements for activities related to the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
Unwavering commitment to peace process
Diciano pointed out that the numerous accomplishments in the Bangsamoro peace process were achieved because of the unwavering support and commitment coming from the government’s various local and international peace partners.
“The major milestones we have achieved in the Bangsamoro Peace Process over the years are largely due to the support coming from our local and international peace partners who share our belief that the only way to resolve the armed conflict in Mindanao is by walking the path of peace,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gaveglia reaffirmed UNDP’s continued support to the government, MILF and the normalization process as a whole, as he lauded the parties for working very hard to move the peace process forward.
“UNDP reaffirms its commitment to support OPAPP and the normalization mechanism [by] helping to move the process forward through our SPAN Program,” he said.
“UNDP has been working with Joint Normalization Committee (JNC) and JPSC to support the operationalization of the JPSTs — to [gather] the needed supplies, equipment and uniforms, conduct JPST trainings, procure vehicles, and construct barracks and stations,” Gaveglia added.
He explained that the UNDP’s implementation of projects under the normalization track is being carried out in partnership with the Embassy of Japan. The agency, he said, looks forward to completing the other 10 barracks in the first quarter of 2020.
“This is actually a testimony of a wider purpose, it is the emblem of the Normalization Process. I do believe that this is just the first step of a longer journey,” Gaveglia said.
Lt. Col. Sherpor Nezam Abdul Ghapor, IDB deputy chief of staff, also reaffirmed the body’s continued commitment to the Bangsamoro peace process.
“This facility, along with JPST personnel, will provide the IDB with the assurance and security that it needs in giving protection not only to the storage area but to the personnel as well,” Ghapor said.
“I would like to reiterate the unwavering commitment of the IDB member-countries towards the implementation of the GPH and the MILF Peace Agreement,” he added.
Ghapor also thanked the AFP’s 1st Marine Brigade headed by Col. Jonas Lumawag of the Philippine Navy, which has been assigned as the “maneuver unit” that will secure the perimeter of the Camp Abubakar or Camp Iranun.
The IDB is mandated to oversee the decommissioning of the MILF combatants and their weapons. It is composed of representatives from the governments of Turkey, Norway, Kingdom of Brunei, and local experts nominated by the GPH and MILF.
Camp Abubakar: A glorious past and promising future
Camp Abubakar had been witness to some of the most memorable historical events of the Bangsamoro’s struggle for self-governance, culminating in the signing of the historic CAB.
Alex Sulay, an intelligence officer assigned to the general headquarters of the MILF- BIAF Base Command, can still recall the look and atmosphere of the area where the JPST barracks now stands.
According to Sulay, the place used to be a bustling center of trade, which also boasted of its own “university.” Aside from a market, there were also smaller schools and clinics, within the community. It was also the home of the founding father of the MILF, the late Ustadz Salamat Hashim.
The resilience of the Iranun people was tested during the outbreak of armed conflict between the government and the MILF, which forced them to abandon their homes and evacuate to safer grounds.
With the signing of the CAB and the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, the Iranun areas are now reaping the dividends of peace as farm-to-market roads, agriculture-based establishments, as well as other infrastructure and socioeconomic projects are being implemented in the area.
Shuaib Adam, MILF Joint Task Force on Camps Transformation (JTFCT) member, is optimistic that Camp Abubakar and all the other MILF communities will be restored to their “former glory” and may even “have greater and better opportunities than it used to have especially now that we are under the Bangsamoro Government.”
Kashmir Mohamad, JPST-MILF focal person, said the barracks will provide a big boost to the JPST and “is a testament of the effective working partnership with OPAPP and UNDP through the SPAN Program.”
Aleodin Aron, who represented Minister Von Al Haq, co-chair of JPSC MILF during the event, said “the JPST has been protecting the gates of the peace process” which began during the decommissioning process at the Assembly and Processing Area (APA) Sites, to securing the SASA and other decommissioning-related activities.
Camp Abubakar is one of the mutually-agreed deployment areas where the JPST barracks will be established. The other facilities will be located in the provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Basilan, Zamboanga Sibugay, Lanao Del Norte, and Lanao del Sur. (PR)

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