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Four decades in revolution, MILF ex-combatant to spend time with family

GUN TRANSFORMS TO CARABAO - Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) former combatant Jacob Palao, 56-year-old and resident of Pikit, North Cotabato, holds a carabao or water buffalo, given to him and his co-former fighters by the government on Wednesday at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao in an effort to transform rebels' social lives. (Moh Saaduddin)

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

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

The 56-year-old Palao said he joined the Moro revolution initially with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)’s Zone 4 in Cotabato province at the age of 12. He then transferred to the MILF to continue their struggle after the rebels separated from its mother unit sometime in 1980s, he said.

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 partial results in 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 rebel headquarters situated in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province.

He said three of his children are undergoing studies and one of them, his eldest son, is nearly to graduate as scholar at a university abroad for a management course.

“If its not with the current peace process, my eldest son could have been one of the young field commanders of the MILF fighting the government,” he said also thanking the government for dividends provided to them.

Palao and his co-fellow decommissioned combatants received on Wednesday 103 heads of carabaos or water buffaloes, 83 cattle, 38 goats, seedlings and farming tools from the government through the Department of Agriculture.

For Palao, he said he will “treasure” what the government and other peace stakeholders have helped to their likes that have been locked up in the decades-long rebellion.

"I never expect in my entire life that this day would come that we will be carrying ploughs and carabaos in our farms together with our families instead of firearms,” he added.

The turnover rite of agricultural aid was spearheaded by members of the Task Force for Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC), an implementing body which was created on March 31, 2015 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, Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary lawyer 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 and unique situations and issues that concerns the decommissioned combatants are properly addressed to make sure that these aids have an impact to their lives," TFDCC Chair 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 said.

He added that 18 remaining decommissioned combatants will receive their shares on livelihood in April this year.

In her parts, Dilangalen pointed out that the recent programs and commitment made are manifestations of President Rodrigo Duterte's imprimatur that the Bangsamoro peace process should proceed and the enabling should be fast-tracked.

"This is it, every government agencies are seriously doing their mandates to realize the President's directive," she said.

Government Implementing Panel Chair 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 really how do we 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 undergo from transition to transformation not only of the combatants but also their communities. (Moh Saaduddin)
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