Jacob Palao, 56, is not your typical guerrilla. Three days a week, he fights with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and he spends the rest of the week farming.
On Wednesday, Palao’s choice became clear.
He and 126 other MILF combatants received farm tools and animals from the Office of the Presidential Peace Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) in Camp Darapanan here, an MILF base.
“I thought about it but I didn’t expect it to come too soon,” Palao said after Irene Santiago, Opapp project implementation chair for Bangsamoro, distributed plows, farm implements and farm animals.
“At my age, I never expected that carrying guns in the name of the struggle would end,” Polao said.
“Instead, I will be using plows and carabaos as I farm,” he said, wiping tears.
Palao had spent many years of his life in combat until the government and MILF struck a peace deal in 2014, which gave him hope for an end to a life of war.
The farming assistance, said Palao, would help MILF combatants lead productive lives.
“I can now live peacefully with my family,” he said. “It’s unlike in the past when I could not tell whether I would come home alive or not,” he added.
Among those distributed to MILF members were 103 carabaos; 83 cattle head; goats; rice and corn seeds; rubber and fruit seedlings; and fertilizers.
Agriculture Undersecretary Ranibai Dilangalen said the aid was part of President Duterte’s commitment to the peace process with Moro rebels, who had agreed to an expanded autonomous region.
Santiago said the program was different from previous livelihood programs that were offered to rebels.
“We are looking at changes and these are not just giving and receiving. This is about making social change not only with the decommissioned combatants but also their communities,” Santiago said.
Palao’s Armalite rifle was among the MILF weapons that have been turned over to a panel overseeing the transition of MILF guerrillas from combatants to productive members of the community.
Foreign observers are keeping watch over the firearms.
But the low-key ceremony showed MILF guerrillas were now reaping the fruits of the peace process. Palao said he hoped his transition from a life of conflict to full-time farmer would help send his children to school.
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