Challenges ahead

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President Rodrigo Duterte has just breached the first days of the last half of his six-year term, but with the dawn of peace he had set in Mindanao is being pulled by a new wave of terror never before seen in the country.

Peace should have provided the Duterte story with a lovely backdrop. But the case of a second Filipino offering himself as a suicide bombing sacrifice had tainted that otherwise serene picture.

This year will mark the smooth decommissioning of more than 10,000 combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), along with their weapons and the transitioning of what were once rebel strongholds to peace camps.

It was made possible by completion by the government and the MILF of the first two tasks needed before the former rebel group takes the track towards the normalization of the lives of its former combatants, their families and followers.

Returning to normal will not be easy. Our Muslim brothers have fought nearly half-a-century for causes ranging from autonomy to secession — two calls now considered by some Muslim youth as too tame compared with the new inviting religious ideology of an establishment of a world caliphate order through terror.

But it has to be done as old and young warriors have agreed to put down their arms to give peace in Mindanao a chance.

The MILF, once the young splinter of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), had seen and accepted the better track to peace. And with a Mindanaoan steering the country in Mr.
Duterte, the MILF is banking on his offer of genuine peace by agreeing to stopping all hostilities which had claimed thousands of lives, displaced families, wrecked their children’s future and denied the region of its chance to develop.

The Normalization Track of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is now in place, and some international bodies have placed their focus on us, seeing the country as willing to embrace its brothers and sons back and hopefully forge a lasting peace.

The ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao have all been done with both parties agreeing to iron out the kinks before these would lead to the total decommissioning of MILF soldiers and arms.

Two weekends ago, the government and MILF panels have agreed to take the second track of normalization by sending the former combatants back to their families and making their weapons as tools for peace. Six MILF camps will also be transformed into becoming peaceful and resilient communities.

Joint Peace and Security Teams will clear unexploded ordnance, private armed groups will be disbanded and government soldiers will take over camps near communities for their protection.

Amnesty and pardon may be given to MILF members convicted of crimes related to their roles with the former rebel group.

But as the sun begins to set for the old warriors, the young turks who have split from the MNLF and the MILF have risen.

And with them, the child warriors they have developed into fighters have grown fiercer and bolder.

Among them is Norman Lasuca, a former child warrior for the Abu Sayyaf who had volunteered to become the first in his batch to complete as suicide bombing mission.

Lasuca was not the first Filipino suicide bomber as it is now claimed by the media. A 33-year old tricycle driver had beat him to that murderous distinction in 2002.

Lasuca is the first among the first former child warriors who have received a more violent indoctrination and training in this age of life like video games and the Internet — technologies used to the hilt by the terror groups for indoctrination and recruitment.

That makes suicide terrorism no longer rare in the Philippines. There is a likelihood that there could be former child warriors who had been brainwashed by the Abu Sayyaf to take similar suicide bombing tasks in the next days.

The Islamic State (IS) had taken over the minds of some young Muslims, and it has lured not only the very young, poor minors but also the young professionals.

The recent capture of Mohamad Reza Kiram, a Muslim descendant of a sultanate family, and his wife Ellen Barriga, an Ateneo de Davao mathematics wizard graduate with an M.B.A., in Syria is proof.

They were a model of a modern interfaith marriage until they joined the IS in 2015.

Kiram had led the beheading of a hostage while being filmed for the group’s propaganda war, while Barriga had used her Christian name to funnel foreign funds to local terror networks.

Overseas Filipino workers who had run afoul with their host countries’ laws had been recruited by the IS in jails.

The IS has lost considerably on many fronts over the last years. Since the fall of the al-Qaeda following Osama bin Laden’s killing by the US Navy Seals on 2 May 2011 in Pakistan, the IS had taken over the terror leadership.

But the IS is seeing Asia as its next battlefront. It has invited new warriors to join its fighters in the Philippines if they cannot afford to travel to Syria, where its bases have wilted under heavy fire.

This will be a challenge for President Duterte and the future presidents to succeed him.

Because there will be no real peace in Mindanao when these fighters keep on spawning just as their fathers begin to see the uselessness of their wars. It is a cycle that has to stop.

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