GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 March) – A total of 29 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels under units operating in the provinces of Sarangani and Davao del Sur provinces have yielded to government forces in the area in the last two months, said a report by the military that was immediately refuted by the NPA.
Lt. Col Adolfo Espuelas Jr., commander of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion (IB), said most of the surrenderees decided to lay down their arms and renew their allegiance to the government following negotiations conducted by their personnel and other local officials in the area.
“This is mainly the result of our continuing peace and development initiatives, which is now the main focus of our counter-insurgency operations,” he said.
In the last two weeks, 11 rebels reportedly under the NPA’s Front 71 separately surrendered to government troops in the municipalities of Glan, Alabel and Malapatan, he said.
Espuelas said the surrenderees were mostly members of the NPA’s “militia ng bayan,” the bulk of which is composed of former local bandits that were allegedly recruited by the rebel group.
He claimed the bandits decided to link up with the NPA following a blood compact or “dyandi” between them.
“They were recruited (by the NPA) to do some secondary functions like going to the markets or fetching supplies and doing some errands for the rebels,” he said.
But Ka Efren, spokesperson of the NPA’s Far South Mindanao Region guerilla committee, immediately disowned the surrenderees, saying they were “fake rebels.”
“These were local bandits that were re-packaged by the military as NPA members,” he said in an interview over radio station Bombo Radyo.
Espuelas said among the reasons given by the former NPA rebels in deciding to yield were their difficult situation in the mountains and the risks they were facing.
“Most of the time they don’t have enough food to eat and they were constantly moving from one place to another,” the official said.
He said several others cited as reason for their fallout the uncertainty of their cause and concerns with the safety and welfare of their families that were left behind.
Espuelas said the surrenderees, who each yielded a firearm, were now undergoing “processing” for their inclusion in the national government’s continuing integration program for rebel returnees.
He said they also received relief and financial assistance from the Sarangani provincial government and other concerned agencies.
“We’re looking at providing them with some livelihood assistance to help them start anew with their lives,” Espuelas said.
Espuelas said they expect more NPA rebels to also surrender in the coming months as they continue with the implementation of various peace and development works in the area.
Since last year, the 73IB shifted the focus of its counter-insurgency operations to peace and development in a bid to encourage more rebels to surrender and return to the fold of the law.
Such effort was endorsed by Sarangani officials led by Rep. Emmanuel Pacquiao, who offered to help provide livelihood assistance for the rebel returnees. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)