Sarangani bandit leader yields

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/3 Dec) – A leader of notorious bandit group operating in the mountains of Sarangani province has surrendered to government forces after several weeks of negotiations.

Maj. Adolfo Espuelas Jr., commander of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion, said Friday bandit leader Armando Bansalao alias Kumander Dodong formally laid down his firearm and renewed his allegiance to the government in a simple ceremony in Glan town Thursday attended by Sarangani officials led by Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao.

“This is a major break in our ongoing efforts to neutralize these bandit groups and we expect more of them to come down and embrace the government’s reconciliation efforts in the coming weeks,” he said.

Espuelas said Bansalao’s group had been tagged as behind a string of armed robberies and cattle rustling activities in the municipalities of Glan and Malapatan during the past several years.

He said the group also figured in a number of armed encounters with local militiamen and Army troops assigned in the area.

In an interview with reporters, Bansalao said he initially joined a unit of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the province several years ago but decided to lay low after a six-month stint with the rebel group.

He had planned then to return to his family and just lead a normal life but later reconsidered due to a pending murder case filed against him and the lack of stable livelihood.

Bansalao, who gave up an M-14 rifle, spent several years in the mountains of Glan and Mapalatan as a leader of a bandit group engaging in various criminal activities until he decided to finally surrender to the 73IB last Nov. 30.

“Life in the mountains was very difficult and I realized that we don’t have any future there. So I decided that it’s time for me to surrender also for the sake of my family,” he said in the vernacular.

Glan Mayor Victor James Yap believes Bansalao was encouraged to surrender “because he saw that we are really sincere about helping them.”

The mayor said he expects more bandits, especially from Bansalao’s former group, to surrender and avail of the reconciliation and livelihood help offered by the local government and other government agencies.

Pacquiao, who is personally supporting the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ peace and reconciliation initiatives in his province, promised to provide livelihood assistance for Bansalao and his family.

“We’ll give him something that would enable him to provide for the needs of his family on a long-term basis,” he said.

Espuelas said aside from the assistance from Rep. Pacquiao, Bansalao received an assistance package from the local government of Sarangani.

He added that they are presently evaluating whether the surrenderee may avail of additional assistance under the national government’s reconciliation program. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)