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From war to peace, MILF combatant turns entrepreneur
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From war to peace, MILF combatant turns entrepreneur

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Barahama Ali, one of the senior leaders of the MILF’s 113 Base Command in Datu Tumanggong in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay,  said the peace pact has opened “a new door for us.” (Photo credit: Popcy Ali/ Facebook)

IPIL, ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY

A decade after the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the peace accord, a combatant finds his way back to the society as an entrepreneur.

In an exclusive interview, Barahama Ali, one of the senior leaders of the MILF’s 113 Base Command in Datu Tumanggong in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay,  said the peace pact has opened “a new door for us.”

From living a precarious life of a revolutionary for over two decades, sleeping under the trees and constantly moving from one place to the other, Ali said returning to the mainstream, however, is not easy.

People, he said, will always look at you as “trouble maker, and outlaw.” That he has learned to live by.

“It is normal because most of them do not understand our struggle and the ideology we fought for,” Ali, in dialect, intimated.

From time to time, he said, law enforcement agencies continuously tagged him in criminal activities – accusations he flatly denied.

“The MILF combatants are not bandits, they are revolutionaries fighting a just war,” he asserted.

But the stigma associated of being a former combatant does not deter him to remake his life after the peace agreement was signed.

‘New lease of normalcy’

The peace pact gave Ali and his fellow combatants a “new lease of normalcy.”

Ali said the relative ease he experienced has given him time to tend to the family’s properties – a piece of land and an islet off Naga town in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Reunited with his family, Ali was able to guide his children like any other “normal fathers do.”

“All my children are now professionals,” he beamed. One of his sons is an engineer employed with the provincial government. One daughter is a nurse working in a government hospital while the other is a public school teacher. Another son is into business.

Sense of normalcy, he said, after a “very tumultuous life of a revolutionary.”

Back to nature

He spends most of his time developing a new venture – ecotourism.

“I am developing Coba Islet into an ecotourism site,” Ali opened. This islet is just a 20-minute boat ride from the highway of Tenan village, a former conflict-affected village some eight kilometres away from the town center of Ipil.

The trend, he said, is tourism. That inspired him to develop the area into “something different from other beach resorts.”

He preserved the mini forest in the islet while building structures like cottages, tree house, and conference hall.

“Nature has a very special place in my heart,” he shared, recalling his years living in forest and mountains.

Beyond tourism, Ali wants to erase the stigma associated with the area. The mere mention of Barangay Tenan where visitors take a boat for the islet evokes the image of banditry, extortion, and kidnapping.

That was before, Ali stressed.

“I want to help in conveying the message that all is fine now,” he said.

“Not only fine, it is fun,” he jested.

BTA extension

When the Senate passed on second reading the bill extending the transition period of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), Ali beams: “Salamat sa sponsor sa bill ug mga kaubang senador (Thanks to the sponsor of the bill and his fellow senators).”

The Philippine Senate approved on Wednesday, August 25 Senate Bill 2214 that extends the transition period until June 30, 2025. Once the bill becomes law, it will reset the first election of the Bangsamoro Parliament from next year to May 2025.

“The extension of the transition period would give the Bangsamoro regional government enough time to implement all the development programs and projects,” MILF 113 Base commander Suaib Abdullah Edres, in a separate interview, said.

The postponement of the regional elections would free “our leaders in the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) from election concerns.”

“Our BARMM officials can now work with focus on the stalled development programs because of the pandemic,” Edres said.

Areas outside the core territory of BARMM will also benefit from the extension. The MILF 113 Base Command is outside the core territory.

“Even non-Moro will benefit from this,” he said.

The two-year extension, he said, will give them more time to “strengthen our partnership with the military and police to keep our region ready for development.” Under the peace agreement, both the government and MILF commit to a joint mechanism to respond to criminality and lawlessness in the former conflict-affected areas. ###

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