BUENAVISTA, Agusan del Norte: When some former combatants of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) decided to renounce the ideology they once championed, they learned that the new path they chose to follow is still full of challenges and risks.
But as they continued to follow their newfound road amidst the perils and stakes, they held on to the belief that a bright future awaits them.
The former NPA combatants who are now settling temporarily in a halfway home inside the headquarters of the 23rd Infantry Battalion (23IB) in Barangay Alubihid here are united in the belief and determination to recover their lives and the families that were ruined when they took part in the armed struggle which, in the end proved fruitless.
As they hang on to their hopes, the former rebels (FRs) found new allies in the Army and the other line agencies of the government and the provincial government of Agusan del Norte.
“We have 38 former rebels here at the halfway house. Some are staying here with their families and children,” 1Lt. Roel T. Maglalang, the civil-military operation (CMO) officer of 23IB, told the Philippine News Agency on Sunday.
Maglalang said the halfway house also serves as the venue where the former rebels reunite with their families, especially with their children.
But finding temporary shelter at the halfway house only signaled the start of the new battles the former NPA combatants will face.
Besides the health risk of the dreaded coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), the FRs have to contend with threats from their former comrades who are still with the communist movement and now consider them as “traitors.”
With the help of the government, they continue to move on to rebuild their lives for the future of their families.
“Despite the threat from our former colleagues, we are determined to continue with our struggle with our newfound lives,” said alias “Siloy” who once served as a combatant of Guerrilla Front (GF) 4A of the NPA in Agusan del Norte.
Siloy is among the 23 FRs who graduated Friday (Oct. 30) from the 25-day Electrical Installation Maintenance (EIM) program of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The training was held at the headquarters of the 23IB where each of the FRs was also provided by TESDA with a daily allowance of PHP160, free meals and snacks.
“Now I am a skilled electrical technician and I owe this skill from the government, especially the TESDA and the support of the 23rd IB,” Siloy said.
With the knowledge and skills obtained, Siloy now has the opportunity to find a decent job when he returns to his family and community.
“I’m very thankful to the government for helping me find my new life. I know that threats are still there but I need to move on. Nothing will happen in my life and my family if I just hide due to fear,” he said.
Another FR, alias “Louie” expressed no remorse when he decided to go back to the fold of the law last year.
“The skills I acquired from the 25-day training is a treasure that I will keep and apply upon my return to my family and community,” he said.
Louie added that his decision to surrender last year was the right thing to do as he realized that the government is serious about helping the former rebels lead a new life.
“I am thankful to the government. Since the time I surrendered, I witnessed how the agencies, the Army and the local government work together to provide support and services to us,” he said.
Income amid the pandemic
Aside from the 23 FRs, another 41 former NPA combatants under the 23rd IB also completed their 10-day Emergency Employment Program (EEP) under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
The EPP is also known as the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced (TUPAD) program of DOLE.
Each of the 41 FRs received compensation of PHP320 per day for the 10-day work they rendered under the EPP or TUPAD program.
Alias “Alma”, a mother of three, voluntarily surrendered to 23rd IB last year and is now processing her support from the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the government.
“While staying here at the halfway house, we need to sustain the needs of our family and the children. The TUPAD program of DOLE is timely especially for the needs of my children who are schooling now,” she said.
Alma said the compensation she received from the 10 days of work really matters especially during the prevailing pandemic.
“At least now I have secured money to spend and some for savings. I need not risk my life from the threat of Covid-19 to go out in the city (Butuan) to find some job,” she said.
Alias “Dods”, also a beneficiary to the TUPAD program, is likewise thankful for the compensation he received.
“I was not wrong when I decided to leave the NPA movement. Since the day I surrendered to the 23rd IB this year, the government provided me with the needed support to bring back my life,” Dods said.
He also recognized the sincerity of the government in the implementation of the unified approach to defeat communism and terrorism in the province.
“The agencies of the government unite to bring the services to the former rebels. Aside from the Army, other agencies are also here to help us. The E-CLIP program of the government and recently the housing program will give us a brighter future once we go back to our families,” Dods said.
All-inclusive approach to ending terrorism
Lt. Col. Julius Cesar C. Paulo, commander of 23IB, on Sunday emphasized the all-inclusive approach of the government in helping the former combatants of the NPA.
“Our convergence has proven the enduring resolve of the government to end the local communist armed conflicts here in Agusan del Norte. Our unified efforts bring hope to our FRs who were once lost especially when they were subjugated by the destructive and injurious ideology of the communist NPA Terrorists (CNTs),” Paulo said.
He also expressed the belief that NPA combatants who continue to fight the government will be able to discover the new life of their former comrades who are already with their families, and be enticed to also surrender to the authorities.
“My only prayer is for them to ponder deeply and come out with the right decision for their lives. The government, the Army, and the rest of the agencies are always ready to welcome you back,” Paulo said. PNA