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Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BATTLE TO BOTTLE: From former combatant to changemaker

The account provided by Wahid Maneged, the deputy brigade commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), is not an unusual story; rather, it is an intrinsic aspect of the conflicts that have afflicted Bangsamoro region in past years.

The BIAF is the military wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The implementation of the decommissioning process of the MILF forces is guided by the roadmap of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), specifically in the Annex on Normalization, which is agreed by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and MILF.
 
The roadmap outlines a phased decommissioning approach for the MILF, progressing through ceremonial rites in Phase 1, 30% decommissioning in Phase 2, 35% in Phase 3, and concluding with the decommissioning of the remaining MILF forces in Phase 4.
 
In an interview, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU) shared that as of August 10, 2023, the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) has successfully decommissioned 26,132 MILF combatants along with 4,625 firearms since 2015.
 
This decommissioning process marks the initial step in facilitating the transition of MILF combatants from conflict to a more peaceful existence.
 
Maneged, 44, married and a father of eight (five girls and three boys), residing at Panosolen, in General Salipada K. Pendatun, Maguindanao del Sur, is among the decommissioned combatants seeking a fresh start after years of fighting. His journey began in the MILF at an early age, compelled by persistent skirmishes with the para-military group Ilaga (Visayan for rat), which led him to abandon his secondary school.
 
After years of being in the battlefield, Maneged became hopeful with the coming in of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
 
In adherence to their commitment, the Bangsamoro Government has not overlooked individuals like Maneged. He stands as a testament to their dedication, being among those recipients who have benefited from the livelihood assistance provided by BARMM to support and uplift the lives of those who have played a crucial role in the pursuit of peace and stability in the region.
 
In 2019, Maneged started forming his cooperative, the Barangay Campo Bangsamoro Agricultural Cooperative (BCBAC), which initially became a beneficiary of processing facilities from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), focusing on the production of virgin coconut oil.
 
He shared in an interview that he sold his gun to be able to register his cooperative. “Binenta ko po ang baril ko upang maipatayo at marehisto ang aming kooperatiba. Hinikayat ko rin ang mga kasamahan ko (na mga Mujahideen) na maghanap buhay kasi hindi lahat ng BIAF ay kuwalipikadong magtrabaho sa opisina,” said Maneged.
 
[I sold my gun to build and register our cooperative. I also encouraged my fellow Mujahideens to earn for a living because not all BIAFs are qualified to work in the office.]
 
During the onset of the MILF-led interim Bangsamoro Government, Maneged said he became hopeful when he heard the advice of the Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, saying that BIAF combatants would hardly be accepted in the office but they have an option to create an association.
 
He accepted the challenge and attended various training workshops on how to create a cooperative. The intervention of BARMM in 2022, spearheaded by Minister Engr. Aida Silongan, marked a turning point in Maneged’s life.

 
Binigyan po kami ni Minister Silongan ng machine equipment; may kasamang cash assistance at mga trainings,” he shared.

Maneged holds a sample product of their cooperative’s virgin coconut oil packaged in a bottle. (Marhom Ibrahim/BIO)
 
[We were provided with machine equipment by Minister Engr. Aida Silongan, along with cash assistance and training.]
 
“Ang pinili naming produkto ay virgin voconut oil (VCO) [dahil] madami ang niyugan sa lugar na ito at marami na rin kaming nabenta,” Maneged said.
 
[We’ve chosen virgin coconut oil as our product because there are plenty of coconuts in this area and we have already sold a lot.]
 
Since then, their virgin coconut oil production has increased, resulting in a threefold income boost, reaching P15,000 to P20,000.00 monthly.
 
Maneged elaborated on the product expansion, “Maliban sa produkto namin na virgin coconut oil, gumawa na rin kami ng vinegar, cooking oil, handicrafts from coconut shells, at organic fertilizers.”
 
[Aside from our product, virgin coconut oil, we have also started making vinegar, cooking oil, handicrafts from coconut shells, and organic fertilizers.]
 
Their products have made their way to markets in different parts of the region, extending beyond BARMM, including areas like Davao and Manila.

  
BARMM ministries have recently supported them through financial assistance, soft loans, farm machinery, and training programs given by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism (MTIT), Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR), among others, contributing not only to the cooperative’s financial success but also generating employment for its members and neighboring barangays.
 
Maneged proudly stated, “Naka-create po kami ng trabaho sa mga kababayan namin at karatig na komunidad, lalo na sa mga miyembro. Lahat ng gumagawa nang produkto namin may-income at nagpabenta pa po sila.”
 
[We have created jobs for our fellow citizens in our community, especially for our members. Everyone involved in producing our products earns income and sells their goods.]
 

Wahid Maneged shares the good news after receiving support from the Bangsamoro Government, highlighting the transformation of his life from the battlefield to selling goods in a bottle. (Marhom Ibrahim/BIO)

The cooperative now boasts more than two hundred members, with a growing interest from others who believe in the cooperative’s success.
 
When asked about the business’s impact to fellow former combatants, Maneged shared, “Marami na tayo naturuan sa mga commanders natin, mas mataas pa sa akin ang mga position. Nakaturo na ako sa Cagayan de Oro BIAF, from Islands at sa Davao, mga commanders from Lanao del Sur, and two Maguindanao provinces.”
 
[I have already taught many of our commanders, some holding higher positions than mine. I have conducted training sessions in Cagayan de Oro for BIAF, in the Islands, and in Davao, instructing commanders from Lanao del Sur and two provinces in Maguindanao.]
 
He also serves as a trainer in the Peace Security and Reconciliation Office (PSRO) and Development Academy of Bangsamoro (DAB), partnering with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
 
Maneged has inspired many fellow BIAF commanders to learn and emulate the cooperative model, creating additional cooperatives and providing support.
 
Tulon Basilon, 40, Maneged’s wife, emphasized the positive impact on their family and community, noting the improved livelihood and peaceful environment.
 
“Gumanda na po kabuhayan ng aming pamilya at aming komonidad ay tahimik na po kahit anong oras ng gabi malaya kami lumabas na walang pangamba; payapa na po ang kapaligiran,” Basilon said.
 
[The livelihood of our family has improved, and our community is now peaceful at any time of the night. We can go out freely without fear, and the environment is now serene.]
 
The MOST has distributed processing equipment to 52 cooperatives across Bangsamoro areas under Micro, Small, and Medium-Scale Enterprises (MSMEs)- Upgrading Program (MSMEs-Up) and 71 under the Bangsamoro Empowerment through Science and Technology (BEST), all falling under the Technology Transfer and Commercialization Program.
 
May plano po kami itong produkto namin ay maging malakihan na po. Nasilip na kami ng The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech),” he said, adding that necessary documents to start the expansion are now being processed.
 
[We have plans of developing and expanding our products. The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) has already checked our facilities.]
 
“We are preparing ang area na yan para magpatayo sila ng factory para pagawaan ng cooking oil dito sa namin isa sa beneficiaries ay BCBAC by 2027 in sha Allah, mas dumami na po ang employment,”
 
[We are preparing that area for them to build a factory for cooking oil production. One of the beneficiaries will be BCBAC, and by 2027, God willing (in sha Allah), employment opportunities will significantly increase.]
 
“Masaya ako na hindi lamang sarili ko o pamilya ko lamang ang natutulungan. Masaya ako na makatulong sa community ko. Kaya nagpapasalamat kami sa BARMM, sa pangunguna rin ni Chief Minister dahil naging malaking tulong ang assistance ng BARMM dito sa amin,” Maneged quipped.
 
[I am happy that I am not only able to help myself and my family. I am happy to contribute to my community. So, we express our gratitude to BARMM, led by Chief Minister, because the assistance provided by BARMM here in our area has been a significant help.]
 
In celebrating BARMM’s half-decade of existence, Maneged’s aspirations mirror the region’s collective vision for a brighter and more self-reliant future. The cooperative’s commitment to collaboration, employment generation, and sustained growth not only aligns with BARMM’s objectives but also contributes to the narrative of success and empowerment in the Bangsamoro.

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