Lobregat: DND, AFP unaware of normalization fund for MILF PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 September 2015 11:59

by Jubels Santos

Zamboanga City District 1 Representative Celso L. Lobregat questioned the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the normalization and decommissioning issues during the DND’s budget hearing held last September 8, 2015 in the House of Representatives.

Lobregat asked the AFP if they have been consulted concerning the normalization and decommissioning provisions of the Bangsamoro. Brig. Gen. Angelito De Leon, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations J3, replied that consultations have been made between the OPAPP, DND and AFP on certain provisions of the normalization.

Lobregat asked if the DND and AFP had knowledge of the normalization fund. Brig. Gen. De Leon said that they don’t know about the normalization fund. Lobregat cited the letter of GPH Panel Member Senen Bacani to Philippine Star Editor-in-Chief Anna Marie Pamintuan dated March 3, 2015. As per said letter, “Normalization Fund in different Line Agencies (DA, DepEd, TESDA, PhilHealth, DOH, CHED, and DSWD) for ex-combatants amounts to PhP3 Billion for 2015 and PhP4 Billion in 2016. Normalization Fund consists of programs to assist the return to normal life of ex-combatants.” He asked AFP for the rough estimate of the MILF combatants. BGen. De Leon answered that there are 10,000 MILF combatants. As per computation, if PhP4 Billion will be divided among the 10,000 combatants, that would be PhP400,000 a year per combatant, roughly an average of PhP33,333.33 per month worth of benefits. Lobregat cited that it was mentioned earlier the Private 1st Class is receiving around PhP21,000 gross income including allowance per month. If this is the case, Lobregat said that this would demoralize our AFP members as our soldiers are risking their lives to defend the country and the amount they are receiving is less than the benefits to be given to the ex-combatants.

Lobregat also asked the schedule of the decommissioning of the MILF. BGen De Leon had a difficult time answering. BGen. De Leon then answered that in accordance with the normalization process, it requires specific actions of government on the part of normalization before a certain phase of decommissioning is implemented. BGen. De Leon also mentioned that as of now, the initial phase of decommission was made which was a ceremonial decommission of 145 MILF fighters and certain number of firearms. He also added that in accordance with the normalization process, there are certain phases which will be implemented.

Lobregat reacted on this as peace talks have been going on for 17 years – there are the FAB, Annexes, and the Normalization was signed in January 2014 and we’re still in the ceremonial phase of decommissoning. He then asked the different phases of the decommissioning process. BGen. De Leon said that they are in the process of organizing the joint peace and security teams in the respective areas of the Bangsamoro.

Lobregat then asked on the specifics and timing of the different phases. Phase 1 is the laying down of the 35% of the arms upon the enactment of the law and the law is still to be ratified.

“Here we are being asked to pass a law and there have been deadlines imposed in the passage of the law but unfortunately normalization and decommissioning are nowhere to be found in the proposed law,” Lobregat said. “It may be a policy issue but the policy hopefully should emanate from the DND not only from policymakers and bureaucrats or peace negotiators but it should really emanate from the recommendations of the DND and also the PNP,” he added.

For Phase 2, Lobregat mentioned that it would be another 30% upon the establishment of the Bangsamoro Police. BGen. De Leon said that based on the normalization procedure, Phase 2 would entail the decommissioning of MILF forces that would be around 30% and weapons decommissioned and voluntary registration of firearms, but there was no mention on when the establishment of Bangsamoro Police would be.

Lobregat again reacted that the answers given by the AFP are unacceptable because in the eventuality the law is passed or not passed, in the eventuality the MILF will accept or not accept the law that is passed, the AFP and PNP should know the scheduling.

Lobregat further stressed that after the ratification of the Basic Law, there will be a plebiscite, and the MILF is allowed to have 65% of their arms because 35% will only be decommissioned upon the enactment of the law. “Ano ito takutan?” Lobregat reacted.

DND Usec. Pio Lorenzo Batino replied that based on the normalization papers signed by the parties, Phase 3 would entail the decommissioning of the remaining 35% of the MILF forces and weapons.

Lobregat told the DND and AFP to better study the normalization process because 35% would be decommissioned upon the enactment of the law, 2nd phase, 30% is upon the establishment of the Bangsamoro Police and the last phase, the last 35% will only be decommissioned upon the signing of the Exit Document. Lobregat emphasized that as per agreements signed by the Parties, the Exit Document will only be signed if and when all agreements entered into by the GPH and MILF have been implemented. He also mentioned that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is urging Congress to restore the deleted provisions and to pass the BBL in its original form. He told the DND and AFP that it is better to be prepared for a contingency plan for any eventuality. He also stressed that the normalization and decommissioning provisions should be part of the law.

Lobregat also asked if the normalization includes amnesty. BGen. De Leon replied that there is no amnesty mentioned in the papers on normalization. Lobregat told DND and AFP to review it because in the Annex on Normalization that was signed, amnesty was mentioned and amnesty requires congressional action.

These are the issues raised by Lobregat before the DND and AFP and hoped that the issues raised be addressed.

Secretary Voltaire Gazmin was also present during the said hearing and presented to the body the FY 2016 proposed budget of the DND amounting to PhP158.86 Billion. Representative Zenaida Angping presides over the hearing and is the Appropriations Vice-Chair assigned to defend the FY 2016 budget of the DND. — Jubels Santos