Former NPA rebels in Zamboanga Peninsula venture in turmeric powder production

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 30 August) –The Philippine-Korea International Cooperative Agency (Phil-KOICA) and other government agencies have extended help to former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the Zamboanga Peninsula, who have ventured in powdered turmeric production.

Dr. Christine Yambao, a Phil-KOICA fellow, said they gave the rebel returnees P20,000 for the renovation of a space provided by the 44th Infantry Battalion (IB) for their production facility.

The Department of Science and Technology – Zamboanga Sibugay provincial office extended a P400,000 grant for the purchase of equipment. The provincial Department of Trade and Industry assisted the former NPA rebels in registering their group, the CIFAB-13 or the Community Integration Flex A, B, 13, their former guerilla front.

The CIFAB-13 members are living new lives by transforming wild turmeric from the peninsula into powdered products in pouches sold at the markets here.

Yambao said the collaborative efforts among the former rebels, the government agencies and her group planted a seed of hope for the returnees in this new episode of their lives.

She expressed hopes that the turmeric tea production of the former communist rebels will become the “One Town, One Product” of Bayog and Imelda municipalities, since it provides economic benefits to their communities.

Cinderella Yursua and Antonino Roda, former officers of the NPA Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC), shared that drinking turmeric helped them survived the harsh life in the jungles as they moved around the mountains of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte for decades to recruit young members.

“Turmeric ang among kape sa bukid (is our coffee in the mountains),” Roda, alias Dondon, said.

Roda, 53, who used to be the medical officer of the WMRPC, said he would advise their comrades to drink turmeric not only because it is abundant in the peninsula’s hinterlands than coffee but also because of its health benefits.

Yursua, also known as Ason, said they yielded due to the intensive military operations of the 44th IB to neutralize the WMRPC.

“I had to give up. It was like giving up a past that was your life for four decades, yet hoping to have a life that could bring me back to my children,” she said in Visayan.

She is proud that they are now making a living out of wild turmeric.

The fall of Baste Nabong, the secretary or highest-ranking officer of the WMRPC who oversees seven guerilla fronts and one main regional guerilla unit, and the eventual surrender of Yursua and Roda brought down the communist movement in Zamboanga Sibugay, which prompted  Governor Wilter Palma to declare the province as “insurgency-free.”

After Yursua and Roda surrendered to the 44th IB, they received P40,000 that they used as initial capital for their turmeric business.

The soldiers also provided transportation that initially enabled them to harvest wild turmeric from the hills of Bayog, in Zamboanga del Sur, where the root crop is abundant.

The former NPA rebels also received livelihood assistance from the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

Lt. Col. Filven Noche, 44th IBA commander, vowed continuing support to the programs of NTF-ELCAC, which was created through Executive Order 70, to help former NPA rebels live normal and productive lives.

“The soldiers have not failed in supporting our business venture involving turmeric tea manufacturing,” Yursua said.

Noche assured that his battalion would stay responsive as professional troopers in assisting the surrenderers towards transformation. (Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)