Philippine government peace negotiator, Irene Santiago, turned over sets of farming equipment to a group of separatist rebels, this month, during a simple ceremony held in Butig in the province of Lanao del Sur - one of Philippine's stronghold of separatist rebels. Santiago, during the turnover ceremony, said that we have to do everything we can to attain development in this community.
There have been few projects launched recently for the separatist rebels. This includes water system, solar dryer, warehouse, rice mill, concrete pathways, box culverts and alternative learning systems in rebel-controlled villages.
The project assistance was part of the peace building programmes between the Philippine government and the 15,000-member organisation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in compliance to the Annex on Normalisation of the Comprehensive agreement on the Bansamoro. The assistance was made possible through the support of the Mindanao Trust Fund Reconstruction and Development program.
Early last month, 126 MILF combatants also begun to surrender their firearms to the government in exchange for farm tools and farm animals as part of the peace building process between the Duterte government and the MILF.
The decommissioning of the firearms ceremony, which is also a part of 2014 peace agreement, was held in a MILF camp. However, the positives impact did not happen overnight. The negotiation started as early as 2001 when the Philippine government initiated the peace talks and invited the Malaysian government to serve as a third party facilitator, as a part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).
Veteran MILF fighter Jacob Palao, 56, was fighting Philippine soldiers three times a week, but later tearfully gave up his firearms to the government and got farm implements in return to start a productive farming life. "I thought about it but I didn't expect it to come too soon," Palao was quoted by the Philippine Star.
125 other MILF combatants also joined Palao and gave away their firearms to the Philippine government in a ceremony held at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat this month.
Earlier, hundreds of MILF fighters also turned some high-powered firearms to the government to prove the MILF's sincerity in cooperating with the Philippine government to achieve lasting security in the country.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has put the peace process with the MILF as his priority program and said that he would like to attain the lasting peace before his constitutional term ends in 2022.
Who were the MILF?
The MILF was a revolutionary organisation, which broke ay from its umbrella organization, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1977 when the latter was granted a semi-autonomy government, brokered by then Libya leader Maumar Gaddafi.
Since the 1970s, the clashed with the rebels claimed more than 150,000 lives from both sides. In September 1996, the MNLF struck a peace deal with the Philippine government but the MILF continued their struggle until 2001 when the Philippine government started to initiate another peace talks.