By Allen Estabillo
GENERAL SANTOS CITY – A total of 32 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels operating in the hinterlands of South Cotabato province formally surrendered to government authorities and local officials on Tuesday.
The rebels formally laid down their firearms and renewed allegiance to the government in a ceremony spearheaded by the joint provincial and municipal Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (TF-Elcac) in Tantangan town, South Cotabato.
Col. Jemuel Siason, South Cotabato police director, said the returnees were formerly under the Guerilla Front 73 (Musa) of the NPA – Far South Mindanao Region, which operates in parts of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani.
Siason said they were led by a vice platoon commander and finance officer of a unit based in the quad-boundaries of Koronadal City and the municipalities of Tantangan, Banga, and Norala in South Cotabato.
The returnees were listed as residents of Sitio Matapol, Barangay Simsiman in Norala and Purok 9, Sitio El Nap, Barangay Dumadalig and Sitio Mayada, Barangay Libas in Tantangan, South Cotabato.
He said the surrender was a joint effort of the South Cotabato Police Provincial Office, Police Regional Office (PRO) 12’s (Soccsksargen) intelligence unit, and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
These were supported by the local governments of South Cotabato and Tantangan and other members of TF-Elcac, Siason said.
He cited their engagements with concerned stakeholders, especially community and barangay officials, as well as other rebel returnees.
“This is a continuing process and we’re expecting more rebels to surrender in the coming days,” Siason said in a press conference.
Seven of the surrenderers initially signified to yield last May 26 while 13 others followed on May 29. Their number increased to 32 on Tuesday.
The group voluntarily yielded 20 high- and low-powered firearms, explosives, and subversive documents and materials.
Since May 15, a total of 89 NPA combatants from Guerilla Fronts 72 and 73 have surrendered in parts of South Cotabato.
South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr., who personally welcomed the returnees, assured the provincial government’s full support for their reintegration into their communities, especially in terms of livelihood.
Tamayo said they would evaluate and process their enrollment into the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-Clip), which would provide them with various assistance packages from government agencies.
He said the provincial government would provide them with initial financial assistance of PHP20,000 each.
This was on top of the assistance that they will get under the E-Clip and the firearms remuneration program, Tamayo said.
“Rest assured that we’re always ready to welcome and help you become part again of our communities,” he said.
The municipal government of Tantangan, through Mayor Benjamin Figueroa Jr., released an initial cash assistance of PHP5,000 each to the surrenderers.
Figueroa said they would assess other means to help the returnees, especially in terms of sustainable livelihood.
The ceremony was joined by PRO-12 Chief Brig. Gen. Michael John Dubria, Army 601st Brigade deputy commander Col. Joel Mamon, and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency 12 Director Eduardo Marquez. (PNA)