Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) at their stronghold at Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines. Pic: AP.

Peace talks between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are now on the home stretch with only the decommissioning of rebel combatants and weapons left in the four annexes to complete a negotiated political settlement.

Both panels are to meet this month to start talks on how to agree on the decommissioning, with the MILF insisting that their weapons should not be destroyed and the government bent on putting these arms ‘beyond use.’

Prof. Miriam Coronel, head of the GPH peace negotiating panel, said the decommissioning will make sure these weapons will not be used in the future.

“I think that is what we meant in the framework agreement (when we stated) to put beyond use,” Coronel said in an interview before the Christmas break.

Coronel (in eyeglasses): "The MILF weapons should be put beyond use" Pic: Edwin Espejo.

She said both the MILF and the Philippine government are still to discuss the mechanics of the decommissioning process.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal however warned against destroying the MILF weapons.

“There would be no destruction of firearms and there would be no element of surrender,” Iqbal said in a separate interview.

Coronel also was careful not to use the word ‘surrender’.

“Certainly we don’t use the word surrender.  This is a negotiated political settlement which means the arrangement is that we allow everybody to join and get back into the fold of the law,” she said.

Both the government and the Moro rebels however agree to a third party monitoring team that will oversee the decommissioning of MILF weapons.

Iqbal mentioned Finland, Norway, Japan and Canada as possible third party countries that could oversee the decommissioning process.

The MILF also wants to follow the Irish Republican Army (IRA) model that was used in the Northern Ireland peace process where their firearms will be kept in a warehouse until the completion of the peace agreement.

MILF's Iqbal: Once decommissioned, it becomes irreversible. Pic: Edwin Espejo.

The surrendered IRA weapons were eventually destroyed.

While the government agrees that these weapons be kept for safekeeping, it is insisting that the MILF weapons be put beyond use.

Coronel conceded that the decommissioning process will be very thorny. She added however that MILF combatants may be allowed to keep some firearms.

“First of all, we distinguish according to types of weapons.  There are heavy weaponry that no individual can possess as an individual,” the GPH peace panel chief said.

She said MILF individuals can keep some of their firearms covered under the country’s firearms law.

Iqbal earlier said the government should recognize the Moro culture and their right to bear arms.

Iqbal also explained that the MILF is taking cautious steps in addressing the issue.

“The decommissioning,” as far as the MILF is concerned, “is a first act that would be the last act – irreversible.”

“That is why we very cautious in approaching the issue of decommissioning.  It is a very sensitive issue,” Iqbal said.