MOA on former rebels in Bukidnon still hanging

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/10 February) – The provincial government of Bukidnon and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) have not signed the memorandum of agreement on benefits for former rebels pending some clarifications made by the provincial board, a member of the legislative body said on Thursday.

Jay Albarece, who chairs the committees on laws and peace and order, said the provincial board wanted to iron out some provisions not only with OPAPP but also with the office of the governor, although Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. vowed to have it approved.

In the board’s session last week Zubiri asked for the specific number of beneficiaries and the amount of financial assistance the provincial government will extend, among others.

The MOA covers rebels who surrendered during the previous administration but were unable to receive assistance under the dissolved Social Integration Program.

President Benigno S. Aquino III terminated the SIP upon his assumption.

But OPAPP Assistant Secretary Rose Romero said they have an “interim program” for the meantime that they are preparing a new scheme called Local Integration Program to be coursed through the local government units.

The provincial government proposed the MOA under this interim program, Hansel Echavez, provincial livelihood officer said.

He added the questions from the board arose because there has been no explanation on the changes in the integration program [for former rebels].

The MOA was first endorsed by Gov. Alex Calingasan to the board in November.

Albarece affirmed Echavez’ statement saying the board wanted to clarify many things with OPAPP.

Echavez, who has been facilitating livelihood assistance for rebels who surrendered, said the OPAPP and, the provincial government and other agencies need to reconcile their data.

He cited that the previous draft of the MOA only indicated 59 beneficiaries who have not received assistance from OPAPP instead of 169.

The number does not include those who surrendered last year with Benjamin Salusad, a former rebel who allegedly turned to banditry in San Fernando and neighboring towns.

Another contentious item in the MOA, he added, is the amount the province should give as its counterpart.

He said the new proposed MOA provides for P30,000 as livelihood assistance for each surrenderee from the provincial government, but Zubiri wanted to trim it down to P15,000.

In the SIP, Echavez added, OPAPP provided P50,000 for livelihood assistance.

He said in the new OPAPP guidelines, the assistance will be based on the needs of the former rebels.

Col. Romeo Gapuz, chief of the 403rd Infantry Brigade told the provincial board last week the signing of the MOA is urgent as it would affect the campaign for more rebels to surrender. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)