Filipino rebel commanders become officials under peace deal

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Some of the fiercest rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in yesterday as administrators of a new autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Murad Embrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region to be called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are expected to be demobilised starting this year under the peace deal.

Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al Haq told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo.

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte would pick his representatives to fill the rest of the 80-member Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the Chief Minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of another rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, would also be given seats in the autonomous government.