Two former members of the New People’s Army are hoping the national government would make good on its promise of benefits and services after receiving P100,000 each last week as financial assistance from the provincial government of Catanduanes.
Governor Joseph Cua handed over the two checks to the rebel returnees from Caramoran and San Andres in the presence of Catanduanes PNP provincial director Col. Brian Castillo, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer Ma. Rosella Taraya, William Aldea of the DILG provincial office and the commanding officer of the Alpha Company of the 83rd Infantry Battalion (PA), 1Lt. Jose Niel Enriquez. Also present were members of the Local Finance Committee.
The two communist guerillas reportedly surfaced and surrendered to the Philippine Army’s Military Intelligence Company (MICO) sometime in September 2020 and underwent interview by the Provincial Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) Council last March 2021.
They surrendered a Cal. 30 M1 Garand rifle and an M16 Armalite rifle, for which they are also entitled for remuneration under the same program.
After the handover ceremony at the governor’s conference room, the former NPA guerillas were escorted by the Army to the Land Bank of the Philippines branch where they encashed the checks before returning to their respective homes.
At the Comagaycay camp of the 83IB Alpha Company in San Andres town, one of rebel returnees, now 75, said he would use the cash to finish the two-storey house he has built for his family in Caramoran.
He told the Tribune that he was already in his 50’s when he joined the communist guerillas after a platoon of them visited him in 2003, with the commander and two of his men even staying for the night.
He said the presence of the Red fighters in his house triggered an encounter with government soldiers, which forced the rebels to leave a cache of firearms at the foot of a narra tree as they escaped to the nearby mountains.
Later, the returnee claimed, the NPA called him to retrieve the weaponry and transfer it for safekeeping at a relative’s house.
He soon began joining the guerillas around the island province during their recruitment drives in isolated barangays but he said he always refused to go with them on planned encounters and ambuscades.
An “albularyo” (traditional healer) who claimed to have learned the craft in Siquijor province for two years, he said he treated his fellow guerillas whenever they had ailments but did not handle those with bullet wounds.
A native of Virac who started working as an abaca stripper (parahagot), he said that when he was new in the NPA, there was once a gathering of leaders and guerillas from the different parts of Bicol in the central part of Catanduanes, with the feeding of 500 participants requiring the slaughter of three heads each of carabaos and pigs as well as “banyeras” of fish.
He disclosed that what initially drove him to join the NPA was its brand of swift justice, with those found guilty of theft, rape and murder executed preferably by the victim or a family member.
Later, he realized that most of his fellow guerillas missed their families the most, with communications limited to cellphones or brief, pre-arranged meetings in isolated barangays.
There were even instances when the families of slain rebels are not told of their deaths but informed only by the commander that they have been assigned to other provinces.
On the extortion allegedly being perpetrated by the NPA even on sari-sari stores, small businesses and government employees, he claimed that these are being done by former rebels as the NPA only contacts big businessmen.
Funding allegedly came from politicians, including senators, the old man claimed, with some guerrillas serving as paid armed escorts of local politicians during the election campaign.
The NPA allows those who want to leave the armed struggle if they seek permission, on the condition that they do not enrich themselves, he likewise said.
He left the organization when an unmarked van came to his house and six officers came out. He said he did not allow them to enter the yard unless they had a search warrant but relented when one other man disembarked from the vehicle: a former colleague in the NPA.
He admits that he could be targeted for liquidation, but he said he does not care as he is already old.
All he wishes for now is for the national government to fulfill its promises under the E-CLIP program through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), including hog raising as a livelihood project, dental procedures for his children, and college scholarships for two of his sons who are studying criminology at a Virac college.
One of his nephews and a relative of his wife are both in the NPA, he bared, and they would surrender only if they see him actually claim and enjoy the benefits promised by the government.
The other recipient of the P100,000 cash assistance also hailed from the capital town but got married in a rural barangay of San Andres while he was already with the rebels.
Less talkative than his companion, he said he was only 19 when he joined the NPA, lured by the promise of a good life in the mountains.
The returnee, who only finished Grade 2, no longer remembers when he exactly went with the communist guerillas and does not even have an idea of how old he is.
“Magayon daa duman,” he said of his recruiters who gave him a firearm after just a few weeks of training.
There were about 20 of them in a camp and six when they were told to conduct ambuscades of government troops in Virac and Caramoran.
He said they were the ones who set off a land mine and rained automatic fire on a provincial director of the Catanduanes PNP and police officers on two vehicles who were pursuing four rebels who had killed two airport policemen on Valentines Day in 2005.
It was only later that he realized that life in the armed struggle was hard.
“Tios sa bukid, mas masakit pa kaysa gahagot,” said the former abaca stripper who recalled suffering from stomach pain due to hunger.
It was much more difficult when they were caught up in the mountains during a typhoon, as they were forced to shelter behind tree trunks, wet, shivering and hungry.
He was convinced to surrender by military officers who came to the house he occupied with his wife and two children.
1Lt. Enriquez, who stood in for the MICO commanding officer during the awarding of the assistance, has this message for the remaining guerillas in Catanduanes: “Nananawagan po kami, ang inyong Philippine Army, sa mga natitirang miyembro ng armadong NPA na nandito sa probinsiya ng Catanduanes na bumaba at magbalik-loob na sa pamahalaan.”
“Kapalit po niyan ay ang mapayapa at maayos na pamumuhay kasama ang inyong mga mahal sa buhay lalo na ngayon pagsakit ng Pasko,” he said.
“May programa po ang ating gobyerno para po sa inyo, ang Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) na siyang magbibigay ng mga benepisyo at pag-alalay sa inyong pagbagong-buhay,” the commanding officer stated, citing the awarding of cash assistance to the fro former rebels.
“Habang may pagkakataon pa po na magbagong-buhay, magbalik-loob na po kayo ngayon sa pamahalaan at iwan na ang walang saysay na armadong pakikibaka para po sa inyong mga mahal sa buhay,” 1Lt. Enriquez stressed.
The benefits are part of the Task Force Balik-Loob under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), a centerpiece program of the government’s localized peace process, which integrates and consolidates the benefits and services of all national and local agencies and local government units for former rebels and their families.
Through this program, they can be reintegrated back to the community, be with their families, and start over with their new, normal lives.
The financial benefits intended for their development include but are not limited to the following: reintegration assistance (P21,000.00); firearms, explosives, and ammunitions remuneration; immediate assistance (P15,000.00); livelihood assistance (P50,000.00); livelihood materials and implements or employment assistance (P100,000.00); access to government services; medical assistance; legal assistance; housing; Modified Conditional Cash Transfer; loan and market access; enrolment in the Alternative Learning System; psychosocial assistance; college tuition and stipend; and, conditional transitional grant (P5,000.00).