Former separatist insurgents in the southern Philippines relinquished thousands of firearms as part of a peace deal with the nation’s central government, their leader announced in late September 2022.
Murad Ebrahim, also known as Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, made the announcement during the opening of parliamentary sessions in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Mindanao as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. visited the heavily Muslim southern region of the mainly Catholic Philippines and addressed the region’s lawmakers.
About 5,500 former combatants planned to surrender about 2,400 weapons in the last phase of decommissioning, Murad said. “We are committed to sustain the momentum and the trust you have given us,” he said at the ceremony attended by Marcos.
Murad, in charge of the region’s transitional authority, heads the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former armed separatist group that signed a peace deal with Manila eight years ago. The pact ending MILF’s decadeslong insurgency stipulated that former rebels must surrender their weapons.
The process was supposed to be completed in three phases, beginning in 2019, but was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The MILF already had turned in more than 5,000 firearms, according to government figures. The Philippine Department of National Defense estimated the former guerrillas had about 40,000 firearms.
Under the decommissioning, each former combatant who turns in weapons will receive a cash payment, including funds for education.
Despite not supporting Marcos in the May 2022 general election, Murad assured him of his cooperation and support. Murad had accused Marcos’ namesake father and the military under the late dictator of ransacking Muslim areas and massacring communities.
‘Historical justice, progress, peace’
Marcos spoke of his commitment to peace in the region. “As your president, I assure you, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), and all the Bangsamoro people of this administration’s full and unwavering commitment to the peace process,” he said at the plenary.
“The path to lasting peace is always under construction. But we walk this path together. And we walk not because it’s an easy one. We walk this path together because even with its difficulties, we know that at the end of the journey is historical justice, progress, peace, stability, and the unity that the people in our nation have long aspired for,” he added.
Marcos said his administration would push for socioeconomic development and intervention to promote peace in areas affected by decades of conflict. “I encourage the BTA to pass measures that will secure the welfare of the people, particularly in health care, fisheries, transportation, digital infrastructure and e-governance,” he said.
The MILF leadership also invited Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which the MILF split in 1978, to attend the parliamentary sessions. The MNLF signed its own peace pact with the government in 1996 and Misuari subsequently became governor of the Muslim autonomous region. The government, however, considered the pact a failure.
Misuari later rebelled against the government, and the MNLF lay siege to southern Zamboanga City in 2013, leaving more than 200 people dead. When Marcos’ predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, took office in 2016, he cleared Misuari of rebellion charges in a bid to quell Muslim dissatisfaction.
In late September 2022, Misuari stood on the stage with Murad, and the two former fighters hugged in front of Marcos. “We reached out to MNLF as we vowed to work together for a united Bangsamoro,” Murad said.