MANILA: Over 7,000 former separatist fighters in the southern Philippines have passed entry exams to join the country’s security forces, local authorities said on Wednesday, as they hope to sustain peace in one of Southeast Asia’s most conflict-torn regions.
The peace process in Bangsamoro, a region covering predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao island, has been underway for nearly a decade since the government struck a permanent ceasefire deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, after almost 40 years of conflict.
An armed breakaway group of the Moro National Liberation Front — the oldest Muslim separatist movement in Mindanao — MILF continued to fight when its parent organization reached a peace agreement with the Philippine government in the 1990s. Only in 2014 did MILF fighters agree to turn over their firearms in exchange for the establishment of a self-administered Bangsamoro.
As part of the peace process, the region’s inhabitants voted for its greater autonomy in a referendum held in 2019. The transition period will culminate in 2025, when Bangsamoro will elect its legislature and executive.
Mainstreaming former fighters into the national security forces is part of the autonomy project. In late May, 11,000 ex-combatants from MILF and MNLF sat for exams to join the Philippine police force, which 7,145 of them have passed, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Cabinet Secretary Mohd. Asnin Pendatun said in a statement.
“We are very grateful that we have a high passing rate for the qualifying exam,” he said. “This is just a testament that symbolized the partnership between the national and Bangsamoro governments for the peace process.”
About 5,000 of the candidates are expected to join the police force, initially as patrol officers, after training and medical tests.
Decades of conflict have hampered development and kept parts of Mindanao among the poorest regions not only in the Philippines, but also in Asia.
Wilben Mayor, former assistant secretary at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, told Arab News before the exams that once integrated into the police force, the former MILF and MNLF fighters would help “ensure peace and security not only in the Bangsamoro, but throughout the country.”
“Under the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, this is the first time that certified members of the MILF and the MNLF have been given the opportunity to enter the Philippine National Police,” he said.
“They are now considered peacekeepers and peacebuilders.”