Corruption in the way of peace
Editorial

Corruption in the way of peace

/ 04:35 AM February 27, 2024
Corruption in the way of peace-27feb2024

A senator has alleged that commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are taking 50-percent cuts from the P100,000 cash grant given by the government to each rebel returnee in exchange for laying down arms, one of the conditions of the historic Bangsamoro peace agreement in 2014.

The purported moneymaking scheme was exposed during the Feb. 20 hearing of the Senate national defense committee, which was looking into the delays in the decommissioning of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing.

But first, it must be noted that the bearer of the news is no stranger to bribery himself—Sen. Jinggoy Estrada—freshly convicted by the Sandiganbayan of direct bribery in connection with the pork barrel scam, which is now on appeal.

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The son of former president Joseph Estrada revealed during the hearing that he had received complaints from former Moro combatants about MILF leaders receiving kickbacks from the incentive.

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‘Isolated incident’

Although the senator did not disclose his source, the allegation was serious enough—and plausible enough—that presidential peace adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. was compelled to issue a statement on the matter.

“This government shall not tolerate any act of corruption or irregular transactions, more so those that undermine the well-being of our MILF brothers and sisters. Rest assured that this isolated incident will be thoroughly investigated, and will be brought to the attention of the MILF leadership,” Galvez said on Tuesday.

In making such a statement, however, President Marcos’ peace adviser seemed to contradict himself: How could he conclude that the incident was “isolated” when he hadn’t even confirmed its veracity?

Whether the allegation is true or not, Galvez may well be doing the investigation a disservice by trying to minimize the scale of the problem, instead of addressing it squarely.

It wasn’t the first time that the head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity turned defensive at the mere suggestion of irregularity in the decommissioning process, which commenced after the establishment in 2019 of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim governing body of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Discrepancy in firearms

During the Feb. 6 hearing of the same committee, senators noted a “discrepancy” in the number of firearms that former MILF combatants had turned in as part of the peace deal. Sen. Imee Marcos said only 4,625 firearms were surrendered by 26,132 former BIAF fighters, each of whom was supposed to have received P100,000 in cash aid.

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That prompted Sen. Raffy Tulfo to comment: “The discrepancy is [very significant]. You have to investigate. There’s corruption here.”

Galvez took offense at the senator’s words and shot back: “Don’t tell us that we are corrupt.”

Later, a joint statement was released by government panel chair Cesar Yano and MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal: “Contrary to baseless allegations on corruption, especially in the decommissioning, the GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels assure the public that proper mechanisms and procedures are in place to guarantee accountability, and trust and confidence in the process.”

P1.3 billion not received

But Galvez should well understand that there’s a notable difference between the statements, “there’s corruption here,” and “you are corrupt.” He might be correct that the allegations in the Senate could be false or blown out of proportion, but any decent investigator would approach an investigation from a place of objectivity rather than defensiveness.

During the Feb. 20 hearing, Estrada urged the complainants to submit their affidavits in order to formalize their claims. “If we have 26,000 combatants who are willing to surrender, that’s P1.3 billion that won’t be received by the rebel returnees, but will instead go to their commanders,” he said.

At the same hearing, Mohajirin Ali, secretariat head of the MILF’s peace implementing panel, said the erstwhile rebels’ leadership “will not tolerate such practice and the commanders will be subject to disciplinary action.”

100-percent MILF decommisioning

But any inquiry into the allegation shouldn’t be left to the MILF to resolve, lest there be doubts about its impartiality. Instead, the BTA, an 80-member body with 41 members from the MILF, should form an independent panel to look into the alleged irregularities in the decommissioning process that is being overseen by the Turkiye-led Independent Decommissioning Body.

Such an investigation should neither impede nor delay the current target of 100-percent MILF decommissioning by next year, as Bangsamoro Parliament deputy speaker Lanang Ali said, “so that [the former rebels] can be clothed as legal personalities to participate in the 2025 elections.”

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To that end, both the government and MILF panels must ensure that corruption won’t rear its ugly head in this important step in the peace-building effort in Mindanao.

TAGS: cash grant, cut, Editorial, MILF, opinion

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