Army seeks release of P1-M aid for ex-rebels

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/29 September) – Local Army officials are working for the release before yearend of some P1 million worth of seed assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) for rebel returnees and residents of areas previously influenced by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat.

Lt. Col. Alex Noel Bravo, commander of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion, said they requested the seed grant from DA to help provide additional livelihood opportunities for residents of 11 upland villages in Columbio town.

He said the grant’s beneficiaries include former NPA members and sympathizers of the communist-led rebel group in the area.
Bravo said their unit is presently completing the requirements set by DA for the release of the assistance.
“We’re targeting its release to the beneficiaries before the end of the year,” Bravo said.
Under the DA’s seed assistance program, the official said the beneficiaries will receive vegetable, palay and corn seeds of different varieties, depending on the suitability of the crop in their area.

He said the prospective beneficiaries will undergo a series of technical trainings on various agricultural production practices from the agency’s experts.
Bravo said they will later undergo exposure trips to demonstration farms and model agricultural production areas.
The official said they sought the help of DA for the seed grant following their consultations with local officials and residents of Columbio.

Villages in the mountains of Columbio were previously known as hotbeds of the NPA, which operates two active guerilla fronts in the area.

The NPA’s Front 72 reportedly operates within the boundaries of Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato provinces and the Front 71 within the Sarangani, Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato

Front 76, which was tagged as behind the string of attacks in Tampakan town two years ago, was earlier declared to have been dismantled by government troops in the area.
“The armed groups were still visiting the area occasionally but their influence has already diminished after we cleared their local political structures,” Bravo said.

He said most of the former NPA rebels and sympathizers in the area are now part of the Barangay Defense Systems or BDS that were organized by the 27th IB. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)