The Philippines military is retraining 3,000 former armed rebels for their new roles as peacekeepers in the country’s south, serving alongside the agencies and authorities they used to fight against.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was one of several groups that waged a rebellion in the Mindanao region that claimed about 150,000 lives since the 1970s.
The government and the MILF signed a peace pact to end the decades-long conflict and, under the deal, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was expanded and the MILF plays a role in its governance.
MILF chair Murad Ibrahim, who is chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, said the training was part of the peace process.
“We are now working with them (government forces). Everyone has already accepted that we are no longer adversarial with the government. We are now in partnership,” he told Arab News.
“We expected that this kind of partnership with the military would happen, especially when we entered into a political process, a peace process. There were no personal adversarial relations. It was just a matter of principle,” he said, adding they were ready to work with the government for the sake of lasting peace in the region.
The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., said the military was committed to continuing with the “process of healing, and the process of normalization” in Bangsamoro.
“We have long dreamed for peace in the Bangsamoro region,” he added, emphasizing that maintaining “mutual trust” between the government and the MILF was crucial to the process.
“One thing that we should further develop is the willingness to work together. This can only happen with the start of the healing process, and confidence-building between the armed forces and the MILF.”
The 3,000 former fighters will receive basic military training to prepare them for their new role as members of the Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST), where they will serve with the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The JPST is tasked with ensuring the successful implementation of the normalization track of the 2014 peace accord between the MILF and Manila, which includes the decommissioning of MILF forces.
On Thursday, the AFP and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process signed an agreement to formalize their partnership in implementing the decommissioning process for 40,000 MILF fighters and their weapons in the next three years.
Madrigal said the training course aimed to achieve the “same views towards security, to develop the same parameters, and synchronization of the movement” to maintain peace and order in Bangsamoro’s communities.
Earlier this month, 225 grizzled ex-fighters started their training at in Carmen, North Cotabato. Former rebel Abdulraof Macacua said this type of event was “simply unimaginable” many years ago.
“No-one ever thought that the MILF would ever be in a military camp such as Camp Lucero to undertake military training … and with soldiers at that,” he added.