Bukidnon governor assures livelihood aid for NPA surrenderees

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/11 January) – The provincial government will give livelihood assistance to anyone who returns to the fold of the law regardless of whether or not they are in the military’s “order of battle,” Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan said.

Calingasan was reacting to reports doubting the identities of the persons who surrendered on Tuesday as members of the communist New People’s Army and surrendered to authorities.

Lt. Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of the 8th Infantry Battalion, presented to the governor and reporters three alleged rebel returnees. They were identified as Nelio Padao aka “Raymond,” Judy Padao aka “Renan,” and Tenoy Sabuan aka “Basag.”

The surrender came almost three months after 80 alleged NPA members surrendered to the 8th Infantry Battalion in Maramag town on Nov. 15.

The surrenderees, led by Benjamin Salusad alias Nonong, reportedly turned in 25 high-powered firearms.

Only 31 of the surrenderees were said to be fulltime combatants and 49 were members of the Milisya ng Bayan (People’s Militia). Seventy of them were males.

The surrenderees belong to the Tigwahanon, Matigsalog and Manobo tribes of San Fernando.

Padao, 27, identified as a squad leader of the NPA’s Front 6 Sangay ng Platon Pamprograganda 3, said he heard Salusad on radio station DXDB convincing former comrades to also surrender.

The front, called the Ernesto “Boyboy” Roa Command, reacted to Salusad’s surrender saying he and his companions were not rebels.

In the same radio interview, Padao recalled, Salusad denied accusations the military was abusing surrenderees.

Padao said he and three other companions decided to leave the NPA but on their way out from their base they met former comrades who had fetched rice supply from the lowland, and an encounter ensued. One of his companions was captured by the rebels and was reported killed.

Calingasan said the provincial government is committed to welcome the rebels and asked those who have surrendered ahead, like Salusad, to give them more time.

Second District Rep. Florencio T. Flores Jr., who was present in the media presentation at the governor’s office, assured them the government will not leave them behind.

But he added that there is no shortcut to the returnees’ rehabilitation, and not all of their needs can be provided right away.

The provincial government is offering a P30,000 financial assistance to rebels who surrender with firearms and P5,000 for those identified as “militiamen.”

Calingasan clarified the local livelihood assistance is not part of the national government’s integration program, which he described as “taking so long” to process.

Hansel Echavez, provincial livelihood officer, said social welfare officers will conduct interviews of the returnees to identify their needs, which will become the basis for the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for the release of assistance. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)