Gov’t eyes special scholarship program for decommissioned MILF combatants

Robie de Guzman   •   November 7, 2019   •   1124

Agents of an independent decommissioning body inspect surrendered firearms in the town of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Philippines, 07 September 2019 (issued 08 September 2019). More than six months after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was ratified in a plebiscite, Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) turned over close to a thousand high-powered firearms to an independent decommissioning body, reports said. 

MANILA, Philippines – The government is eyeing to provide a special scholarship or capacity development program for decommissioned members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and their families.

The program is among the key points provided in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

CHED chairman Prospero de Vera III said the MOU, which was signed last Oct. 30, aims to provide assistance and ensure access to quality tertiary education in the BARMM.

The MOU was inked by De Vera, OPAPP Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr., and BARMM Technical Education Minister Mohagher Mohammad Iqbal.

“We are assisting the BARMM consistent with the policy of President (Rodrigo) Duterte that all young Filipinos must have access to quality education and that no qualified student is denied access to education on account of poverty,” De Vera said in a statement.

He added that the implementation of initiatives relating to higher education is consistent with Executive Order No. 79 or the Implementing Annex on Normalization Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Aside from providing special scholarship program, the MOU also seeks to do the following:

  • Determine the areas to extend technical assistance to the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education (MBHTE) in relation to BARMM higher education institutions (HEI) and the CHED Registry;
  • Capacitate MBHTE in monitoring the compliance of BARMM HEIs with the standards of quality education;
  • Communicate to DSWD the importance of ensuring the inclusion of underprivileged BARMM students and the children of decommissioned MILF combatants and selected beneficiaries from the Six MILF camps in Listahanan 3.0;
  • Encourage the deputized Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (ETEEAP) HEIs in Mindanao to help children of decommissioned MILF combatants and selected beneficiaries from the six MILF camps to complete their undergraduate study;
  • Offer study grants and capacity-building programs to target beneficiaries, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations and procedures
  • Propose professional development programs to faculty and staff of BARMM HEIs through the available CHED and other national government funds;
  • Mobilize leading HEIs to provide technical assistance to BARMM higher education needs identified by MBHTE;
  • Provide MBHTE with necessary assistance in the creation of a tribal university system;
  • Assist MBHTE with the necessary technical assistance in the crafting of the Education Code.

Galvez, for his part, said they are requesting Congress to allocate funds for the implementation of the scholarship program for the decommissioned combatants.

“I hope that through this agreement, we shall be able to reach out to those students residing in the ‘last mile’ areas, the underserved and most especially, the children of decommissioned MILF combatants. We are committed to supporting them until they achieve their full potentials,” he said.

Galvez believes the recipients of this program will eventually become the next leaders of the BARMM and strong advocates of peace and moral governance.

Terror threats in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi declined in past 2 years – WestMinCom

Robie de Guzman   •   May 5, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The number of terrorist threats observed in the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao have significantly dropped in the last two years, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) chief Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan Jr. said.

Data from the military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) Sulu showed that from July 1, 2020 to May 2, 2021, the force had 38 encounters with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and has neutralized 260 of its members; 34 of which were killed, 42 apprehended, and 184 surrendered.

In the first quarter of 2021, JTF Sulu said ASG now only have 132 of its manpower compared to its 282 and 145 members in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

The military also observed a significant decrease in ASG’s firearms this year with only 147 left when it used to possess 330 weapons in 2019 and 155 in 2020.

The JTF Sulu further said that there was also no recorded terrorist acts perpetrated by the local group this year, noting that their last attack was the two explosions in Brgy. Walled City in Jolo, Sulu on August 24 last year.

According to JTF Sulu, it is its mission to conduct military operation to defeat ASG, and support the government peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in order to “significantly contribute to the peace, security, and development efforts of the Government in Sulu province.”

“Military action is only a small factor in combatting terrorism, the major factor here is the assistance (from the Bangsamoro Government),” Vinluan was quoted as saying in a statement released by the Bangsamoro government.

“We need your help to finally end the conflict in Sulu,” he added.

For his part, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Chief Minister Ebrahim said the interim Bangsamoro Government has been put to place to assure that the people gets its well-deserved peace and sustainable development after years of conflict and unrest.

“When we signed the peace agreement with the national government, we knew that this transition period would not be an easy track. We also acknowledge that there are still splinter groups and extremist organizations that would provide challenges in the process,” Ebrahim said.

“We are fortunate that in this journey, we have our dear partners from the security sector to help us out in maintaining order. Troops whom we once faced at the other side of the fence – now working with us, side by side, one in building a Bangsamoro that we can be proud of,” he added.

Vinluan and the JTF Sulu commanders paid courtesy visit to Ebrahim and other BARMM officials on Monday, May 3, at the Bangsamoro Government Center in Cotabato City.

The visit was particularly aimed at providing the BARMM government an update regarding the security situation and development challenges in the province of Sulu, a stronghold of local terrorist ASG.

 

Suspected MILF lost command member nabbed in Zamboanga del Norte – PNP

Robie de Guzman   •   April 23, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A suspected member of the notorious lost command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was arrested in Zamboanga del Norte, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Friday.

In a statement, PNP chief General Debold Sinas identified the suspect as 37-year old Kayser Martinez alias Alihamra Martinez, who was said to be a former member of the MILF lost command group operating in Siocon and Sirawai towns in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Martinez was arrested on Wednesday during an operation jointly conducted by elements of the Regional Mobile Force Battalion 9 and Siocon Municipal Police Station by virtue of warrant of arrest under criminal case number 232 for the crime of multiple murder issued by the RTC 9, Branch 6, of Dipolog City, Zamboanga Del Norte.

Citing court records, Sinas said Martinez was involved in the massacre of four civilians last August 3, 1999, in Sitio Guisakan, Barangay D. Reconalla, Siocon, Zamboanga Del Norte with his former MILF Lost Command Leaders Hairulla Hassan alias Hayron Hassan and Eddie Namenso alias Commander Liwayway.

They were also among the perpetrators of the daring attack on Siocon municipality last May 4, 2003, that resulted in casualties and damages in the municipality.

Currently, Martinez is a member of Hassan Group criminal gang allegedly led by Anderson Hassan alias Commander Sabaya, cousin of former notorious leader Hairulla Hassan who are at the same time eminently monitored tying up with the Local Terrorist Groups (LTGs) based in Panabutan, Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte.

“Manhunt operations against the leader and other members of the criminal gang are underway to prevent them from further victimizing innocent people,” Sinas said.

Martinez is presently detained for further interrogation.

Appropriate charges will be filed against him in court, the PNP said.

Sinovac COVID-19 vax arrives in Bangsamoro Region

Robie de Guzman   •   March 4, 2021

The allocated batch of the donated CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccines developed by Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has arrived in the region.

In a statement, the Bangsamoro health minister said 4,200 vials of Sinovac vaccines arrived on Thursday at the Cotabato Airport. Its arrival was welcomed by officials of the Ministry of Health and Maguindanao Provincial Health Office.

Dr. Amirel Usman, BARMM health minister, said the vaccines will be administered to 2,100 health personnel in the region.

The vaccination ceremony will be held on Friday, March 5, at the Integrated Provincial Health Office in Maguindanao.

Usman said this is for the first phase of the BARMM’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

Each health worker will receive two vaccine shots with a four-week interval from the first vaccination.

Usman emphasized that health workers in the region, who work both in public and private hospitals, including frontline workers in the ministries of social services, education, and local government, are the top priorities of the vaccination program.

Next are indigent senior citizens, Bangsamoro constituents, and uniformed personnel.

Usman, however, noted that this is still subject to change depending on prevailing situations.

“We have two types of COVID-19 vaccine – the one which can be stored in +2C to +8C refrigerator and the other can be stored in -70C. The challenge for Pfizer is, BARMM still has no capability to store -70C temperature right now,” he said.

Health workers, who are willing to get vaccinated, are advised to sign waivers. However, they also have the option if they prefer another Covid-19 vaccine such as Pfizer or AstraZeneca.

Usman, nevertheless, stressed that the available vaccine at the moment is the “best vaccine” for everyone, highlighting that the vaccination program is part of the government’s preventive measures against the virus.

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