Tuesday, March 27, 2012

45 NPA Rebels Surrender to the Army in Bukidnon

FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City - Inspired by the surrender of 80 of their former comrades in 2011, forty-five more rebels have decided to follow the same path by returning to the folds of the law, an Army official said.

Col. Romeo L. Gapuz, the 403rdInfantry Brigade Commander said that the new batch surrenderees is led by Rene Dal-anay, 27, also known as “Ka Taruc” and Nestor Manlahang.

He said that the group , the remmants of the Guerilla Front 6, also turned over assorted firearms that they used while in the armed component of the CNN operating in San Fernando, Bukidnon.

Gapuz said that the formal surrender ceremony will be held during the occasion of the NPA's founding anniversary on March 29.

"We would like to show to the communist armed group that there is an existing road to peace and prosperity that is built through bayanihan. The soldiers are always willing to support the local government of Bukidnon attain lasting peace by convincing the rest of the NPA rebels to follow the examples of their enlightened comrades," he said.

Gapuz also said that the surrender of more than 100 rebels in a span of 4 months is attributed to the effective collaboration among various stakeholders.

“This is an accomplishment of the local government leaders like Gov. Alex Calingasan, down to the level of the village chiefs and even their tribal leaders who facilitated the peaceful resolution to this conflict involving their constituents," said Gapuz.

The Plight of the Indigenous People

San Fernando town in southeastern Bukidnon, is home to various tribal groups like the Tigwahanon, Manobo, Umayamnon and Matigsalog.

Most of the tribes were driven to the hinterlands as hordes of people flocked to their lands since the Commonwealth era.

Due to the influx of settlers, the lumads (indigenous people) who are the original dwellers of the land, became alienated and deprived of their own ancestral domain.

Dal-anay is one of the lumads from the Tigwahanon tribe. Born to slash and burn farmers, he was already dirt poor since childhood.

Barely able to feed the growing number of children, his parents discouraged the children to go to school. Dal-anay managed to finish the first grade where he learned the basics of reading and writing.

He was about 16 years old when heavily armed NPA rebels talked to the young boys in the village. He said that the rebel recruiter promised to solve the problems in their community.

"I was promised the equal distribution of our lands once we defeat the national government. I was told that this could only be achieved by armed rebellion participated by the able bodied members of the tribe," he said.

Believing that he was fighting for the rights of the indigenous people, he and several of his friends and relatives joined the communist movement. Through his diligence and hardwork, he steadily rose through the ranks until he became a commander of a platoon-sized element.

Later, he would discover the bickerings among leaders over money-matters especially the distribution of the extortion money that they collected from the landowners and businessmen.

He also realized that the P700 per child allocation given to each rebel was not enough to sustain the family. Like his parents, he could barely feed his four young children (aged 4-7yrs old) whom he always leave behind while he constantly hop from one hiding place to another, surviving on root crops and hastily cooked maize in some occasions.

A Flicker of Hope

When news broke out that his friend, Benjamin Salusad a.k.a. Ka Nonong, surrendered with 79 of his followers, he began thinking about his options. He had worked with Salusad during his early years in the movement and hold him with high esteem.

He learned later that the local government and the military have devised a scheme to support the former rebels as they join the mainstream society. He heard about the relocation site for his former comrades in Kibungcog villages in San Fernando town.

Most of Salusad's followers became members of the CAFGU, tasked to defend their own community against the NPA's armed aggression.

Gradually, they also realized that the Army soldiers were not war-hungry individuals who always wanted to be engaged in battles.

With the positive feedbacks Dal-Anay and his group has been hearing about the outcomes of the surrender, they decided to give up their arms with the hope of receiving the same fortune with that of their former comrades. 

As the good news about the promising life for the surrenderees spread like a wildfire in the hinterland communities, the armed group of Nestor Manlahang of the Umayamnon tribe followed suit by surrendering to the 403rd Brigade. 

The roster of the Army's peace partners is getting longer each day. 

The Child Warriors

The youngest rebel to surrender is Joseph Dal-anay, an 18- year old relative of Rene.

Known as 'Ka Joseph' in the communist movement, he only finished fourth grade. He said that he and was only 10 years old when he was recruited to the armed group.

He was 16 when he learned how to use the deadly weapons that he only watched in the TV shows. He said that he was scared during his baptism of fire, but he gradually learned the trade in the many years that he figured in several clashes.

He also disclosed that there is a 17-year old boy amongst their group of surrenderees, the only member who is considered as a 'child warrior'.

Reports on the existence of child warriors are quite prevalent these past few days.

Just of late, two members of a rebel group who were captured in the province of Quezon were identified as minors.

The employment of minors in warfare is a violation to the existing domestic law, particularly the Republic Act 7610 which is a law that protects children against abuses, exploitation and discrimination acts. 

Welcome development

Army Chief Lieutenant General Emmanuel Bautista has expressed his gratitude to the various stakeholders which facilitated the peaceful surrender of Dal-anay's group. 

"I would like to welcome our long lost brothers who have decided to work with us in our effort to put an end all armed conflicts in this country," he said.

He said that it is becoming clearer that the solution to our problem is not armed struggle.

"The solution is for us to join hands in the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan to address our problems collectively as a people so that we can finally move forward as a nation," said Bautista, who is one of the architects of the AFP campaign plan dubbed Internal Peace and Security Plan 'Bayanihan'.

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