Manila Bulletin

MILF to set free ‘child war­riors’ start­ing Feb. 18

- By ALI G. MACABALANG Middle East News · Politics · Human Rights · Society · Cotabato City · United Nations · UNICEF · Philippines · Bangsamoro Autonomous Region · Manila · Sultan Kudarat · Moro National Liberation Front · National Liberation Front · Children's Rights · Moro Islamic Liberation Front · Bangsamoro Transition Commission

COTA­BATO CITY – The United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Emer­gency Fund (UNICEF) Philip­pines an­nounced that the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF) will free in a se­ries of for­mal cer­e­monies more than a thou­sand chil­dren who were re­cruited as “child war­riors” or are af­fil­i­ated with the Bangsamoro Is­lamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF.

In a com­mu­niqué sent to the Manila Bul­letin Tues­day, UNICEFPhil­ip­pines said at least 1,782 chil­dren have been iden­ti­fied and val­i­dated for re­lease.

The first batch of child war­riors will re­port­edly be re­leased by the BIAF in for­mal rites on Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 18 at the Bangsamoro Lead­er­ship and Man­age­ment In­sti­tute (BLMI) along Cross­ing Simuay in Sul­tan Ku­darat, Maguin­danao, where Camp Dara­panan, the MILF’s cen­tral head­quar­ters is lo­cated.

The re­lease of child com­bat­ants will be un­til March 2017.

Un­der an Ac­tion Plan it signed with United Na­tions con­cerned agen­cies in 2009 and 2013, the MILF has com­mit­ted “to end the re­cruit­ment and use of chil­dren within their ranks,” Jingjing Romero, a con­sul­tant of UNICEF-Philip­pines said in the com­mu­niqué.

The UN agency ini­ti­ated in 2015 a six-point roadmap for the joint ac­tion plan, in­volv­ing a four-step process -iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, con­fir­ma­tion, val­i­da­tion and ori­en­ta­tion of chil­dren as­so­ci­ated with the MILF com­bat ranks.

Pres­i­den­tial Ad­viser on the Peace Process Jess Dureza is ex­pected to wit­ness the re­lease of the child war­riors on Satur­day.

Mus­lim Min­danao of­fi­cials led by Re­gional Gov­er­nor Mu­jiv S. Hata­man and Maguin­danao Gov. Es­mael G. Man­gu­da­datu re­newed their sup­port to the Min­danao peace process, par­tic­u­larly the cre­ation of the ex­panded Bangsamoro Tran­si­tion Com­mis­sion (BTC), which would craft an “in­clu­sive” ver­sion of the Bangsamoro Ba­sic Law.

Pres­i­dent Duterte ap­pointed re­cently 21 mem­bers of the new BTC which now in­cludes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Moro Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front (MNLF) which has a stand­ing peace agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment signed in 1996. The BTC is ex­pected to har­mo­nize the MILF and MNLF peace ac­cords in draft­ing a leg­isla­tive mea­sure that would cre­ate an in­clu­sive Bangsamoro po­lit­i­cal en­tity.

“We have high hopes that these lat­est de­vel­op­ments (in­volv­ing the BTC ex­pan­sion and the prospected re­lease of MILF child com­bat­ants) would fi­nally re­dound to our cher­ished end of re­bel­lion in Mus­lim Min­danao,” Man­gu­da­datu told a press con­fer­ence Tues­day.

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