MILF ex-com­bat­ant spends more time with fam­ily


CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguin­danao: For more than forty years, Ja­cob Palao has lived as a free­dom fighter with Mus­lim rev­o­lu­tion­ary groups strug­gling for self- de­ter­mi­na­tion in South­ern Philip­pines.

He spent most of his life in the jun­gle be­fore the cur­rent peace process between the gov­ern­ment (GPH) and the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF) be­gan and gave him an op­por­tu­nity to change his life.

Palao, 56, said he first joined the Moro Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Front (MNLF)’s Zone 4 in Cota­bato province at the age of 12. He then trans­ferred to the MILF after the rebels sep­a­rated from the mother unit some­time in 1980s.

Palao is now among 145 pro­filed mem­bers of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Is­lamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who turned over their firearms on June 16, 2015. The de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants are the ini­tial re­sults of the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Com­pre­hen­sive Agree­ment on the Bangsamoro (CAB) which was signed on March 27, 2014.

“I re­ally wanted to spend the rest of my time with my fam­ily so I could also wit­ness my chil­dren com­plete their stud­ies and dreams,” Palao said dur­ing the re­cent turnover of liveli­hood as­sis­tance to 127 former MILF com­bat­ants here at the rebel head­quar­ters in Sul­tan Ku­darat, Maguin­danao.

He said three of his chil­dren are in school and his el­dest son, a man­age­ment scholar at a univer­sity abroad, is about to grad­u­ate.

“If not for the cur­rent peace process, my el­dest son could have been one of the young field com­man­ders of the MILF fight­ing the gov­ern­ment,” he said as he thanked the gov­ern­ment for as­sis­tance pro­vided to them.

Palao and his fel­low de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants re­ceived last Wednes­day 103 heads of carabao (wa­ter buf­faloes), 83 cat­tle, 38 goats, seedlings and farm­ing tools from the gov­ern­ment through the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

Palao said he will trea­sure what the gov­ern­ment and other peace stake­hold­ers have done for them who have been locked up in the decades-long re­bel­lion.

“I never ex­pected in my en­tire life that this day would come when we will be car­ry­ing ploughs and carabaos to our farms to­gether with our fam­i­lies in­stead of firearms,” he added in the ver­nac­u­lar.

The turnover of the agri­cul­tural as­sis­tance was spear­headed by mem­bers of the Task Force for De­com­mis­sioned Com­bat­ants and their Com­mu­ni­ties ( TFDCC), an im­ple­ment­ing body cre­ated on March 31, 2015 and man­dated to un­der­take spe­cial so­cio- eco­nomic and de­vel­op­ment pro­grams for the de­com­mis­sioned women aux­il­iary forces of the MILF.

The event was at­tended by Gov­ern­ment Im­ple­ment­ing Panel Chair Irene San­ti­ago, Agri­cul­ture Un­der­sec­re­tary Rani­bai Di­lan­galen and of­fi­cials from the TFDCC and the Mus­lim rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.

“Our ap­proach to the de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants is case to case ba­sis, so we make sure that var­i­ous sit­u­a­tions and is­sues that con­cerns the de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants are prop­erly ad­dressed to make sure that these aids have an im­pact on their lives,” TFDCC Chair and As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary Rolando Asun­cion said.

“We are learn­ing a lot of things so we are pre­par­ing for an en­hanced pro­gram for the sec­ond batch based on our ex­pe­ri­ence from the first batch of de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants,” he added.

Asun­cion also an­nounced that 18 re­main­ing de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants will re­ceived their shares in April.

Di­lan­galen pointed out that the re­cent pro­grams and com­mit­ments made are man­i­fes­ta­tions of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s di­rec­tive that the Bangsamoro peace process should pro­ceed and the en­abling pro­grams should be fast-tracked.

While San­ti­ago ex­plained that the pro­gram will not be like the usual dis­tri­bu­tion of liveli­hood as­sis­tance.

“We are look­ing at changes and these are not just giv­ing and de­liv­er­ing. This is about mak­ing so­cial change not only with the de­com­mis­sioned com­bat­ants but also to their en­tire com­mu­ni­ties,” she said.

“What we are do­ing is to bring about this just peace that the Bangsamoro peo­ple have been strug­gling for. We re­ally want to lis­ten to them so that they own that change that is go­ing to come,” she added say­ing that the process of nor­mal­iza­tion will be from tran­si­tion to trans­for­ma­tion not only of the com­bat­ants but also their com­mu­ni­ties.

DE­COM­MIS­SIONED Former MILF com­bat­ant Ja­cob Palao with the wa­ter buf­falo to help him in his farm.

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