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MILF combatants ditch nom de guerre, register legal identities to benefit from social services part of meaningful transformation

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (15 June 2022) — Thousands of decommissioned Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants can finally give up their nom de guerre or aliases and make their full transition to mainstream society through a civil registration support initiative launched in Camp Darapanan, Simuay, Sultan Kudarat on Wednesday. 

Dubbed Access to Legal Identity and Social Services for Decommissioned Combatants or ALIAS DC, the project will not only benefit the former combatants but also their next of kin and other members of their communities. 

The ALIAS DC is co-funded by the European Union (EU), Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), MISEREOR, and The Asia Foundation (TAF), implemented by Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS, Inc.) and supported by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU), MILF, the Joint Normalization Committee (JNC), and Task Force for Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC).

More than 31,000 individuals are expected to benefit from the project which will facilitate the processing of their civil registry documents such as birth certificates and enable them to acquire legal identities and access basic government services.

Also launched was the Programme on Assistance for Camp Transformation through Inclusion, Violence Prevention and Economic Empowerment (PROACTIVE), being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and co-financed by the EU. PROACTIVE aims to transform the six previously-acknowledged MILF camps into peaceful and productive communities. The project is also supported by the OPAPRU, MILF, JNC, and the Joint Task Forces on Camps Transformation (JTFCT)

Int’l support to Bangsamoro

Top diplomats led by European Union Delegation to the Philippines Luc Véron, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven Robinson, and UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines Gustavo Gonzalez flew to Cotabato City on Wednesday and travelled by land to this camp to witness the launch of the two projects.

Robinson shared that as he nears the end of his tour of duty in the country, he is “extremely proud of Australia’s contribution to the peace process and also deeply grateful to all of you for letting us take part.”

“Birth certificates are something that many of us take for granted, it’s a piece of paper that is proof of your existence demonstrating that you belong to the society and that that society belongs to you.

“And I hope that those of you who receive the certificates today marks the start of your participation in the national projects of the Philippines – building a stronger and safer nation for every citizen in it,” the Australian Ambassador added.

Gonzalez, expressed the international development community’s strong support to the Bangsamoro peace process.

“We are gathering the resources and capacities of the international community to support the Philippines and to support BARMM in this history of the Philippines. The presence of Australia, of the European Union, the presence of the PAPRU, the presence of other international organizations, and the UN is a clear demonstration that we are working together here to support this very complex and important process,” he said.

‘Doorway’ to gov’t services

The Asia Foundation Country Representative Sam Chittick explained that “one measure of what kind of society we would like to create is the ability of the agencies and institutions of that society to reach out, engage, and provide identification and documentation to anybody who lives in it.”

“Another measure of the kind of society or the kind of community we want to create is the way in which the government was able to provide services and support to the most marginalized, to those who have the least or the least access to services,” Chittick said.

“A birth certificate or a certificate of live birth is just a document as it is the marriage certificate, marriage license or a PhilHealth card. But it is also a symbol, particularly the certificate of live birth; it is an entry point and a doorway into services that those citizens deserve,” he added.

Véron said the presence of EU signifies support to “the work of the Bangsamoro Transitional Government and the OPAPRU to further consolidate the peace process.”

He underscored that the EU has been a staunch and long standing supporter of the peace efforts in Mindanao since 2020, and that they “have invested over 105 million euro (almost Php 9 billion) in projects covering both development and capacity building for the transition.”

“We are happy to be partnering with Australia and the UN on normalization. Since enhancing the normalization track [and] allowing for all the people engaged in the conflict to lead peaceful and productive lives without leaving anyone behind is crucial to build lasting peace,” Veron added.

According to Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez, Jr, the process of undergoing the process of civil registry is the “ticket for [decommissioned combatants] to avail of important government services and benefits such as in education, health, livelihood opportunities, and other social services.”

Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services Executive Director Edgardo Ligon noted that having a “legal identity is our passport to protection. It is our gateway to opportunities for employment, for education, to access claims, benefits and social protection.”

“As we launch this project, it is important to emphasize that we are all partners in this effort. Together we work towards the goal of  peaceful communities. Something that has long been an aspiration but is now within reach,” he added.

Combatants register legal identities

“Sobrang thank you kami dito kasi kahit na sa pagkuha namin ng kung paano ma-SECPA (Security Paper) ang birth [certificate] ay mahirapan kami. Kaya sobrang thank you kami kasi pinakamahalaga sa amin ‘yan,” said 57 year-old decommissioned MILF combatant Badrudin Dalid.

“Kasi halimbawa, kung pupunta sa munisipyo, kailangan talaga ‘yan. O ‘pag magpa-lisensya ka, mag-apply ka sa senior citizen, o sa 4Ps kung wala yan, mahirapan ka,” Dalid added.

The project beneficiaries come from MILF camps in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Cotabato.

MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal said he is optimistic that the international donor community will continue to carry out peacebuilding initiatives in the region as the incoming administration prepares to take over the reins of government.

“We hope that as we launch these two projects and as [the] new administration comes in a few days from now, the partners uphold the primacy of the peace agreements and implement in good faith these agreements,” said Iqbal.

“Lastly, I would like to end by urging our partners especially the European Union delegation in the Philippines and the Australian Government to extend further their hand in supporting the norms of the peace. The MILF and the  Philippine government will need your support in the processes as we implement the agreements to completion,” he added.

Creating show windows of peace and dev’t

According to UNDP Philippines Deputy Resident Representative Edwin Carrie, PROACTIVE is the “realization of the series of engagement with the leadership of the MILF through several plannings and sessions, but also to learning workshops and consultative processes with the MILF fronts and base command leadership through what we call the school of peace and democracy initiative under the collaboration of DFAT.”

In particular, PROACTIVE seeks to create an enabling environment for sustainable employment and enterprise development; deliver the Initial peace dividends, and promote confidence-building through improved access to basic communal services and facilities; and strengthen social cohesion and community resilience by enhancing the capacities and participation of local stakeholders including women, youth, and faith-based leaders in peacebuilding, promoting a culture of peace, and conflict transformation.

Government of the Philippines Joint Normalization Committee (GPH JNC) Chair Ariel Hernandez thanked the implementers of PROACTIVE, saying the project “will focus on enhancing the capacities of local stakeholders who will be involved in the transformation of the six previously recognized MILF camps into peaceful and productive communities.”

“We believe that the strength of this program lies in its multi-sector approach, as it will be working closely with government institutions, civil society organizations, and other donor programs as well,” Hernandez added.

During the launch, UNDP turned over a ceremonial key to the MILF to signify the start of camp transformation efforts.

Gratitude for donor support

“These programs are for the benefit of the people in the Bangsamoro and for peace in Mindanao. We are indeed grateful for having partners in peace who share our commitment to the implementation of the Normalization program,” said GPH Peace Implementing Panel Chairperson Usec. David Diciano.

Diciano also acknowledged the invaluable contribution of the Mindanao Peace and Development Program – Peace and Development in the BARMM (PD BARMM) to peacebuilding efforts in the region.

He said that PD BARMM “aims to improve the social cohesion and resiliency of the Bangsamoro communities as well as the capacities and confidence of diverse ethnic groups in the region to help strengthen the government’s ongoing peace and confidence-building initiatives in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region”

Galvez also thanked the decommissioned combatants for their willingness to undergo the initiative, which is a clear indication of their continued trust and continued support to the peace process.

“As the secretary of the peace process, I would also like to thank the combatants. Alam namin kadalasan ang ginagamit natin mga alyas but in revealing your true identity, this will give us what we call the confidence in the government to be fully mainstreamed to the society. Napakaganda pong nakikita natin ‘yun na mga indikasyon na this giving in the true identity of combatants, this reciprocates the continuity and stability of our peace program in the government,” said Galvez.

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