Rebels urged to come down and avail of gov’t livelihood program

“Gikapoy na pud ko sa kinabuhi didto nga walay kasegurohan (I was tired of uncertain life out there),” Jerry, a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighter for four years, said in a press conference organized by the 102nd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, Philippine Army based here.

Jerry was one of the two Moro rebels who were given livelihood assistance under the Balik Baril (Return Arms) Program of the Arroyo government. The other was Junie Goon.

Each was given P18,000 livelihood assistance in a ceremony held at the headquarters of the 102IB.

The Balik Baril Program is pursued under the government’s National Program for Unification and Development (NPUD). The program entices rebels to return to the fold of the law. The NUPD has the mandate to provide socio-economic assistance for the reconciliation, reintegration, and rehabilitation of former rebels into the mainstream society.

“We are happy that some of our brothers are beginning to embrace our program for them to return to the fold of law and start and new life,” said Col. Jovencio V. Magalso, commanding officer of the 102IB, during the turnover of the checks to the former rebels.

Magalso urged the beneficiaries to use the amount of money in any lawful income-generating activity that could bring benefits to their families, adding that the military is “always open for those who want to come down from the hills and live a peaceful life within the mainstream of society.”

The 102IB commander, however, clarified that “this livelihood assistance program is only a parcel of the holistic approach in solving insurgency problem.”

When asked what constitutes the “holistic approach,” Magalso said the recent effort to revive the “anti-subversion law” is an important development for us to “finally crush the communist insurgent way ahead of the 2010 deadline.”

President Arroyo last week said she was supporting the revival of the Anti-Subversion Law, which punishes membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), to help put an end to the communist insurgency.

Rep. Jose Solis of Sorsogon filed the bill seeking to revive Republic Act No. 1700, popularly known as the “anti-subversion law,” which was repealed in 1992.

Arroyo again vowed to get rid of the communist rebels before she steps down in 2010, saying the “ideological nonsense” and “criminal acts” of these insurgents must be stopped “once and for all.”

The communist rebels, waging a protracted guerrilla war since the late 1960s, are active in 69 of 81 provinces.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon said he expected the rebel force to be reduced to 3,000 fighters from 7,000 by 2009.

Also last week, the President approved in the spirit of the Yuletide season a three-week truce in the government’s 38-year fight against communist rebels. The truce will run from Dec. 16 to Jan. 6.

On the suspension of military operations, Magalso clarified that “our troops will still conduct security patrol in order to provide security to our people” but the military will “suspend offensive operations.”

Asked on the timetable set by the government against the communist rebels, Magalso said the 102IB is ahead on schedule.

“Under my area of responsibility, we are confident to finally crush the rebels by middle of next year,” Magalso told newsmen here.

Magalso’s area of responsibility covers Zamboanga Sibugay, Baganyan Peninsula of Zamboanga del Sur, and the third congressional district of Zamboanga del Norte.

“So it is very important for us to address the insurgency problem holistically by fighting it in all fronts,” Magalso concluded. (Antonio M. Manaytay)