Speech of MILF chief at decommissioning ceremony

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MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim chats with President Benigno Aquino III at the ceremonial start of the decommissioning of the rebels.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – Following is the speech delivered by Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on Tuesday (June 16) at the decommissioning of fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the turnover of some of their fireams.  The historic event took place in Barangay Simuay, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao.

For some people, the event today is about statistics: 145 MILF [fighters] and 75 firearms.

But this is not about statistics. This is something deeply personal to us.

As I look at the faces of each of our 145 brothers here in this morning, I see 145 stories of struggle, of pain, of hopelessness, and even of death.

Yet I also see 145 stories of hope and faith that indeed peace is near and that all the sacrifices have been worth it.

I see not only their stories but my story as well and the stories of all the mujahideen that have given their lives, their intelligence, their talents to the struggle to protect the Bangsamoro people. What we have today are not the stories of only 145 fighters. What we have today are the stories of the whole Bangsamoro: oppression, tyranny, and yes, liberation.

The road to this symbolic decommissioning has not been an easy one. Frankly, within the MILF, our conversations on these matters is still continuing. This is expected because the struggle is an integral part of our identity.

This decision, however, is rooted in our firm commitment to comply with the principled agreements we have signed with the Philippine government.

This decision was helped in part by the fact that we know that the president understands and feels what we have been going through: how it is to be under an oppressive regime, to thirst for justice, and to have a firm resolve that it should never happen again.

We cannot thank President Aquino enough for his unwavering commitment in our partnership to build a truly democratic, peaceful, and safe society in the Bangsamoro.

Today, we begin the long walk towards transformation, not surrender, to a higher struggle, the start of the transformation of the MILF from an armed revolutionary organization to a political organization ready to govern and serve the Bangsamoro people.

We are looking at the transformation of the Bangsamoro from a state of conflict and underdevelopment to a state of peace and prosperity.

But there is more. This is also about the transformation of the Philippines to become a more just, more inclusive, and to granting space to the Bangsamoro people to direct our lives as we wanted in accordance with their deepest spiritual values.

This symbolic decommissioning signals the start of the transformation of an old arrangement and control towards partnership and autonomy. This symbolic decommissioning symbolizes the return back to normal of the lives of the people of Bangsamoro.

While today is not yet the completion and culmination of our hopes and dreams, it is a significant event because today we proclaim our commitment to peace, not by words but by action. We are a ready and steady partner in building a new order of peace, security, and development, not just for the Bangsamoro, but for all.

Some people think that allowing the start of decommissioning despite the fact that the BBL is yet to be passed is a sign of weakness. It is not. It is a sign of strength, for our strength lies not in firearms but in the love and affection of the Bangsamoro people.

Without the support of the Bangsamoro people, we may have all the arms in the world, and yet there will be no victory. But with the affection and esteem of the Bangsamoro people intact, and the platform to pursue their best interests without undue interference, nothing will be impossible.

The allay the fears, the mistaken notions of some members of our society, and the gross misreading of information that some elements of the media seem to be invariably predisposed to, this event today, is not a process of, quote, surrender, unquote.

The weapons that are gathered here are to be surrendered to the International Decommissioning Body, headed by the representative of Turkey with members from Norway, Brunei, and two each from the GPH and the MILF, and are to be stored in a designated place agreed on by the parties.

This is an important point in the decommissioning process that we have to clarify, lest misinformation is again disseminated to create confusion and engender rumors adversarial to the peace process.

Briefly, allow me to rehearse to you what is in the FAB [Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro] that rationalizes the event that we are holding today.

Normalization is an annex of the FAB. An integral process under this annex is the phased decommissioning of MILF weaponry with the matching program of returning all fighting force to civilian life, but also corresponding thereto are the reciprocal obligations of the GPH under the same annex on normalization, including the dispossession of the six MILF major camps to the created joint MILF-GPH task forces to allow it to be transformed into productive communities.

Likewise, a  process on general amnesty and confidence-building measures that will enhance the return of normalcy in the area.

I am aware of the questions that bug everyone's minds, that cast undue suspicion on the timing of this symbolic decommissioning, given that the BBL, which is the product of the FAB and CAB is still facing uncertainty in Congress.

I understand this feeling for I too was initially bothered by this question of timing.

However, as Muslims, we have to trust Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala [Allah, glory be to him, the most high] and affirm our duty and obligation in the peace agreement.

Nevertheless, let me reiterate our position on the BBL.

We will accept a BBL that is in compliance with the letter and spirit of the FAB and CAB and its annexes. This is the official position of the Central Committee of the MILF.

At any rate, it is our wish and hope that Congress will give full weight to the peace agreement from where the BBL comes.

Allow me to speak in our own tongue for our people: [Speaks in local language].

On this note, we thank again the president for his continued manifestation of commitment and support to the peace process; the Malaysian facilitator, the representative of the International Contact Group, the International Monitoring Team, the International Decommissioning Body, the different structures and institutions of the GPH-MILF peace panels, the UN agencies, INGOs (international nongovernment organizations), JICA, World Bank, and other partners in the peace process.

And to all those who, in one way or the other, contributed to the advancement of the peace process; likewise, to all of those who have embraced this historic event, thank you very much.