DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 January) — President Rodrigo Duterte may not remember this but the spokesperson of the National Democratic Front (NDF) Far South Mindanao Region who surrendered Monday and was presented to him on Saturday at the Matina Enclaves here shared the stage with him in Tulunan, North Cotabato on April 26, 2016, the last time the Davao City Mayor received from the New People’s Army (NPA) a soldier they held in captivity.
The NPA often turned over their captive soldiers or policemen to Duterte, mayor of Davao City for 22 years and long-time chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council. Duterte would then turn over the freed soldiers or police to their respective units. A day before receiving Pfc Edgardo Hilaga from the NDF regional spokesperson, he received five police captives from the NPA in Paquibato district in Davao City.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza noted that when Noel Legaspi aka Efren Aksasato, 58, and his wife Wendy were presented to the President, Duterte told Legaspi “that he should communicate the efforts of the government now to his former comrades who are still there fighting for a ‘lost cause’ after being misled by the principles of Marxism and Maoism that are even abandoned by their proponents and sponsors in all parts of the world.”
Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander, commander of the 27th IB, had earlier said Wendy was chief medic of the NPA while her husband was NDF-FSMR spokesperson for the past 20 years and had been with the revolutionary movement for 26 years.
The FSMR covers the provinces of Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sarangani and parts of Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.
Dureza said the President told Legaspi and his wife that word should be sent to the rebels to “respect the decisions of their comrades who abandoned their ranks after realizing the futility of their cause.” He quoted the President as telling the Legaspis: “If they harm you, they have nowhere to go when I hunt them down.”
He said the NDF spokesperson “was taken in Tulunan” through the efforts of South Cotabato Governor Daisy Fuentes.
“Their 17-year old son who dropped out of school due the kind of life they lived was so jubilant. The mother said she was aghast when she saw him so happy for the first time ever when he knew about the parents’ decision,” Dureza posted on his Facebook page.
He said the President “provided them a new house through a certificate of award,” a DILG-sponsored ‘e-clip’ for returnees with additional cash from the President’s own fund to start a new life and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) gave additional cash assistance and other benefits.
CLIP or the Comprehensive Local Integration Program is a livelihood assistance package for rebel returnees.
The Presidential News Desk reported that the Legaspis were also given food packs and smartphones.
Leander said the couple’s surrender came after months of negotiations with the help of Governor Fuentes.
Aksasato’s last statement e-mailed to media outlets was on December 22, 2017, titled “The imposition of martial law challenges the Mindanao peoples’ resistance.”
“The US-Duterte regime’s coercive re-extension of martial law in Mindanao is a dangerous machination. Duterte is inexcusably accountable for its atrocious and treacherous imposition. He has proven once more his subservience to his real bosses, the rapacious foreign monopoly capitalists,” Aksasato said.
“With martial law, state terrorism is becoming even clearer in the extermination of social activists and bombardments of civilian communities to satisfy Duterte’s greed for power and facilitate imperialist encroachment,” he said.
He said martial law challenges the Mindanao peoples’ resistance and “the people’s revolutionary armed struggle becomes more necessary in defending democracy and national sovereignty.”
Barely a month later, Aksasato was presented to President Duterte as Noel Legaspi, rebel returnee. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)