PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III will witness the first phase of the decommissioning processes in Maguindanao on Tuesday, with the ceremonial turnover of 55 high-powered and 20 crew-served weapons of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the decommissioning of 145 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing.

The firearms will be turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) at the old Capitol compound in Crossing Simuay, Sultan Kudarat town, about a kilometer from the main entrance of the MILF’s Camp Darapanan.

A press release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) on June 11 said decommissioned combatants “will undergo a registration, verification, and validation process, after which they will be provided immediate cash assistance amounting to P25,000 and PhilHealth Cards.”

Gradual decommissioning is part of the Annex on Normalization signed by the MILF and the government in January 2014. It was the last to be signed among four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

“The President himself will be the guest of honor during the event and we are inviting our esteemed lawmakers from the House of Representatives and the Senate to join us and witness the commitment of both Parties to put an end to the armed conflict,” government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was quoted as saying.

It will be the second time President Aquino will visit Simuay in Sultan Kudarat. The first was on February 11, 2013, at the launching of the Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a socio-economic peace initiative of government in partnership with the MILF.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, told reporters in Davao City that he was “not invited” but was “glad we’re beginning the process.”

“It is still a very small step,” he said, noting that only a few firearms and a few combatants would be decommissioned from among an estimated 10,000.

“That is one of the issues that came up in our last hearing. That we have to do something to make the timetable on the decommissioning more stringent,” Marcos said, adding there were suggestions to “remove it from the Annex and… put in the (Bangsamoro Basic Law)… and put very specific dates.”

In the House of Representatives, Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat has also been asking why decommissioning and the other phases of normalization are not in the draft BBL.   

Congress has yet to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the enabling law that would pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). MINDANEWS