THE Aquino administration considers the decommissioning of combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a "significant step forward" in the peace process.

President Benigno Aquino III will fly to Maguindanao to witness the first phase of the decommissioning of 145 MILF fighters and 75 high-powered weapons, including 25 crew-served and 50 high-powered firearms, on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow's event marks a significant step forward in the peace process, not only because it fosters mutual trust, but also because this decommissioning is in itself unprecedented," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Monday.

Apart from the MILF, no other armed organization in conflict with the Philippine government has voluntarily agreed to turn over its weapons as part of a peace agreement, he noted.

"Marking the start of a series of decommissioning phases, this event highlights the sincerity of both sides to go forward with the peacebuilding process and work together toward lasting stability," Lacierda stressed.

Senate President Franklin Drilon welcomed the MILF's decommissioning process but stressed that it will not "be-all and end-all" in the Mindanao peace process.

"This (MILF decommissioning) is a very important confidence-building step. The sincerity of both sides (the government and the MILF) will be tested," Drilon said at a weekly forum in Diamond Hotel in Manila.

"The most difficult aspect in the passage of BBL is lack of trust. We must rebuild confidences. This will be part of the building blocks for the peace, prosperity, and security," Drilon added.

The gradual decommissioning is in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), specifically the Annex on Normalization, which was signed in January 2014.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, said the group will undertake decommissioning "for the sake of peace, for the sake of having real peace in Mindanao and for the sake of the need for normalization [of] the lives of the people including the combatants."

The Philippine National Police (PNP), for its part, is hoping that MILF's decommissioning would pave the way for the return of the firearms seized by Moro rebels from 44 slain policemen during the Mamasapano encounter on January 25. The MILF had returned 16 of the 63 missing firearms of the slain Special Action Force troopers.

As they turn over their firearms, decommissioned combatants will undergo a registration and validation process, after which they will receive PhilHealth cards and P25,000 in immediate cash assistance.

The decommissioning will be conducted by an Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB), which members are all international experts and will be supported by the Joint Verification and Monitoring Team (JVMT).

"The JVMT is headed by a foreign, independent expert with a member each from the government and MILF. The JVMT shall supervise the 30-member Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) that is responsible in securing the mutually-agreed upon Weapons Storage area," said Public Information Office head Wilfredo Franco.

"The JPST is made up of 15 members from the government army and police, and an equal number from the MILF. Teams of 10 JPST personnel each are tasked to secure the storage facility at all times," he added.

The normalization process is aimed at promoting peace in conflict areas in Mindanao, and thus involves medium- and long-term socioeconomic interventions for decommissioned combatants, in order to empower them to pursue sustainable livelihoods. (SDR/Ruth Abbey Gita/Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/Sunnex)