MANILA — Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer on Thursday said that the retrieval of the weapons of the Special Action Forces on February 18 by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was a positive step forward in restoring public confidence in the peace process, and reiterated calls for the voluntary return of other weapons still in the possession of the MILF, civilians and other groups.
In a televised interview Thursday, Coronel-Ferrer noted that the MILF showed it was serious in its commitment to “pursuing the peace” by returning the weapons of the SAF troopers, as she welcomed the commitment of MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal that the MILF would ensure that they will look for the rest of the weapons.
She said the MILF leadership had informed the government panel the difficult job it did in approaching its own forces to convince them to return the SAF weapons in their possession, mainly because many of those holding the weapons also had relatives who died from the encounter in January 25 in Mamasapano.
However, as MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said, “we [MILF] are willing to travel the extra mile so the peace process will proceed” as he assured that the “MILF is a partner of peace in Mindanao,” Ferrer noted.
The MILF turned over 16 and a half weapons and one cellphone unit at a joint press conference of the GPH and MILF peace panels on Tuesday in the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Camp Siongco in Maguindanao. These were retrieved, verified, and presented by the MILF in the presence of representatives from both sides.
The retrieval of the SAF’s firearms was facilitated by the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the International Monitoring Team (IMT). The GPH CCCH is headed by BGen. Carlito Galvez with Secretariat head Dir. Carlos Sol. The MILF CCCH is headed by Rashid Ladiasan. Meanwhile, the IMT team is led by Malaysian head of mission MGen Dato’ Abdul Samad Bin HJ Yaakub and joined by IMT member, Norwegian William Hovland.
The retrieved weapons were officially turned over to the PNP Thursday (February 19) in a ceremony held at Camp Aguinaldo and attended by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Armed Forces chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr., Interior and Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina.
According to Roxas, parallel efforts are currently being done by government to retrieve remaining SAF firearms, including those not in the hands of the MILF.
Coronel-Ferrer reiterated her call to the MILF, civilians and other armed groups to voluntarily return SAF weapons that they have in their possession.
“Alang alang sa mga naiwan nitong trahedya ng Mamasapano, sana ay magkaroon ng ganoong klaseng show or gesture of coming together muli bilang isang bansa para talaga makamit natin yung ating hinahangad na kapayapaan. So patuloy po ang ating panawagan sa lahat, sa lahat po na maaring may pinanghawak na ganitong mga armamento at iba pang mga kasangkapan,” she said.
(In solidarity with the loved ones of those who have fallen in the tragic incident in Mamasapano, I hope that there will be a show or gesture of coming together as a nation so that we will finally have peace. We continue to call on everyone, to those who are still in possession of SAF weapons to return it including other SAF belongings that they may have.)
In response, Iqbal noted that, “kung may natitira pa (SAF weapons & personal effects) sa MILF, hahanapin po namin yan (if there are remaining SAF weapons and personal effects with the MILF, we will continue to look for it),” adding, “I am not discounting that there may be firearms that may not have been accounted [for] pero patuloy ang efforts ng MILF (but the efforts of the MILF to look for it continue).