Philippines’ military to retrain former armed rebels for new roles as peacekeepers

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was one of the groups that waged a rebellion in the Mindanao region that claimed about 150,000 lives since the 1970s. (File/Reuters)
Updated 23 August 2019
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Philippines’ military to retrain former armed rebels for new roles as peacekeepers

  • 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

MANILA: 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.


Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

Updated 16 September 2019
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Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.