By Francis T. Wakefield and Mike U. Crismundo
Eight lumad members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), already tired and hungry after months of evading government forces in the forests of Sultan Kudarat, decided to surrender to authorities on Thursday.
Early this week, 13 NPA rebels also surrendered in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
The eight lumad communist guerrillas also turned over two M16A1 assault rifles and two large improvised bombs in simple rites at the forested area of Barangay Kuden, Sen. Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat, Captain Rogelio Agustin Jr., commanding officer of the Charlie Company of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion, said.
“They were very tired and hungry after months of evading our patrols in the forests. It is fortunate that they heard about the good stories about the other rebels who had surrendered to our unit in the past months,” Agustin said.
First Lt. John Jamora, commanding officer of Alpha Company, revealed that Ka Bobby and Ka Jimboy, the leaders of Platoon Cloudphone who surrendered in September, 2017, facilitated the negotiations for the surrender their former subordinates.
Michael Galing, 37, one of those who surrendered, said he had learned about the ongoing efforts of the local government to resolve their community problems.
“Mayor Randy Ecija Jr. and the Army have extended their assistance to the Manobo tribe. We now believe that the government can solve our problems such as the landgrabbing of our ancestral lands,” Galing said.
As of Thursday, Agustin said, 60 NPA members have already surrendered to the Philippine Army. Their surrender was facilitated by various units and offices, including the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion, 26th Military Intelligence Company, the local government and the local police of Sen. Ninoy Aquino town.
Hardship in the mountains
Lt. Col. Rommel Pagayon, commanding officer of the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion, said the reason the NPAs continue to abandon the underground movement is also due to hardship of running in the mountains.
He cited the earlier voluntary surrender of four heavily Armed NPA fighters belonging to the guerrilla Front Committee 88 of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee during the observance of All Saints’ Day in Talacogon, Agusandel Sur.
“Kim (not his real name) told our operating ground troops that hunger and sickness while hiding in the mountains forced them to surrender,” Pagayon said.
He said the four NPAs also wanted to avail themselves of the government’s livelihood, peace, and development program.
Pagayon said these former rebels will “undergo the processing for their enrollment under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the government where they will get benefits to start a new and peaceful life.”
Col. Andres Centino, commanding officer of the Army’s 401st Infantry (Unity) Brigade, also said the surrender of these NPA fighters is a “manifestation of the weakness of guerrilla Front Committee 88 due to recent setbacks.”
“This is one of our advocacies to bring peace to the community through offering them (NPA) a chance to return to the folds of the law by peaceful means,” he added.
The 13 rebels who surrendered early this week in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, were compensated for surrendering to authorities under the government’s “Pagbalik sa Sabakan” program.
They are also set to avail themselves of the benefits under the CLIP program.
Five of those who surrendered received P65,000 and firearms remuneration each, while the eight, who were members of the “Militia ng Bayan” (people’s militia), were paid for the weapons they turned over in a ceremony in Camp Osito D. Bahian in Malaybalay on Oct. 30, 2017.
CLIP offers livelihood assistance worth P50,000 and immediate cash aid of P15,000 to every NPA who surrenders, including remuneration for each firearm turned over, the Army’s 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID) said in a statement.
Under the CLIP, those who surrendered are also offered a re-integration package that includes livelihood and capacity development trainings.
Maj. Gen. Ronald C. Villanueva, commanding general of the Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th ID, has already urged all NPA members who still remain “victims of futility of the armed struggle and misguided by the ill propaganda of the NPA leaders, to go down, surrender, and live lives peacefully and avail themselves of the the government’s livelihood, peace and development program.”