South Cotabato eyes office for ex-rebels

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 02 April) — The provincial government of South Cotabato is planning to create a new office that will handle programs and interventions for the province’s rebel returnees.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte welcomes Noel Legaspi alias Ka Efren Aksasato, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front’s Far South Mindanao Region, and his wife Wendy who surrendered on January 15 and were presented to the President at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on January 20, 2018. ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Monday discussions are underway for the establishment of the proposed office, which would be placed under the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO).

She said they considered the need to create a provincial unit that will solely monitor the area’s rebel returnees and ensure that necessary interventions are properly implemented and given to them.

“Its primary mandate includes the implementation of resettlement and sustainable livelihood programs for returning rebels,” she said.

The other specific interventions are the processing of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. or PhilHealth membership, provision of skills training and inclusion in government scholarship programs of the children of former rebels, she said.

The governor cited technical-vocational training scholarships offered by the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority.

Fuentes said these interventions would be offered to both former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and Muslim rebel groups.

“Surrendering Muslim militants will have the same treatment with communist rebels as directed by President Rodrigo Duterte,” she said.

The governor said the local government will come up with a concept paper regarding the initiative and will later submit it to Malacanang and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

She said the move aims to institutionalize the proposal and facilitate its possible replication by other local government units.

The PSWDO handles the processing of interventions for rebel returnees in the province through the national government’s flagship Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

CLIP reintegrates former rebels into the social mainstream and uplifts their socio-economic conditions to enable them to become active partners in the local development.

The program seeks to contribute in the achievement of the goal of permanent peaceful closure of all armed conflicts with non-state armed groups.

Since January, 20 former NPA rebels in the province have already availed of livelihood assistance under the CLIP.

The local government of South Cotabato has endorsed the inclusion of 18 more rebel returnees into the program. (MindaNews)