Hopes run high for 56 year-old ex-MILF combatant, colleagues

Mindanao Peace Process • Fri Mar 17, 2017 06:30 AM  •  222   0
By Edwin O. Fernandez
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Jacob Palao wipes tears as he receives livelihood assistance form the government as dividends of Mindanao peace process. With him is GPH and MILF implementing chair Prof. Aboud Linga and Irene Santiago. (Peter Dedumo/OPAPP)
Jacob Palao wipes tears as he receives livelihood assistance form the government as dividends of Mindanao peace process. With him is GPH and MILF implementing chair Prof. Aboud Linga and Irene Santiago. (Peter Dedumo/OPAPP)
CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao -– Jacob Palao has been spending three days a week as freedom fighter and spent remaining days earning for his family.  

He has been doing it almost all his life until a peace deal was inked by Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.  When the deal was forged, Palao and many of his contemporaries saw it coming – at least a better life for him and his family, economically.
 

At 56, he still dreamed of bringing his life out of poverty. A farmer all his life, Palao did not stop dreaming that one day he will earn a decent living.

 Image may contain 15 people people standing crowd and outdoor(MILF combatants no more. Former MILF members who turned over firearms as part of decomissioning process, wait for their turn to receive livelihood assistance - Photo by Rhod Benez/DXMS)

Palao was weeping intensely when Irene Santiago, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) implementing chair for Bangsamoro, handed him over farm equipment so he and 126 other former Moro combatants can start productive farming.  

Palao and his colleagues, now called “former MILF combatants,” were recipients of livelihood assistance from the government as dividends of the Mindanao peace process.  

Turnover ceremonies was conducted Wednesday inside Camp Darapanan, the main MILF headquarters in Barangay Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.  

“I thought of it but I didn’t expect it to come too soon,” Palao told reporters in Filipino after the turnover ceremonies.

“I never expect, at my age, that carrying guns in the name of struggle will end and, instead, I will be carrying modern tools for farming accompanied by a carabao,” he said wiping his tears.  

“I can now live peacefully with my family unlike in the past where I could not tell my family whether I can come home alive or not after my tour of duty,” he added.  

"Despite decades of armed conflict, our being Filipinos, our brothers and sisters in the eyes of God have prevailed among us,” Palao said.  

Palao and his companions received agricultural interventions that include 103 carabaos, 83 cattle heads, goats, rice and corn seeds, rubber and fruit seedlings as well as fertilizers.  

Agriculture Undersec. Ranibai Dilangalen who represented Agriculture Sec. Manny Pinol, said these programs and commitment are manifestations of President Duterte's imprimatur that the Bangsamoro peace process should proceed and the enabling law should be fast-tracked.  

Santiago said the program is different from previous livelihood assistance extended to Moro rebels who turned to farming to earn a living.  

"We are looking at changes and these are not just giving and delivering this is about making social change not only with the decommissioned combatants but also their communities," Santiago said.  

Santiago said the process of normalization will undergo from transition to transformation not only of the combatants but also their communities.  

Peace advocate and MILF Implementing Panel Member Prof. Abhoud Syed M. Lingga could not hold his tears as Palao wept. Palao’s gun, an M-16 Armalite rifle, was among the MILF firearms turned over to the GPH-MILF normalization panel and kept under the eye watch of foreign observers.  

With livelihood equipment at hand, Palao sees his children complete schooling, earn degree and become productive citizens. 
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