72 NPA members surrender in Cagayan de Oro
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines (UPDATED)– As two of their reputed top leaders struggled to fight their detention in Manila, 72 New People’s Army members formally surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday, March 28.
They yielded their arms to the AFP led by their chief, General Emmanuel Bautista, in Camp Edilberto Evangelista, headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. They comprise the second batch of communist rebels to abandon the armed struggle in the last 5 months.
Bautista said the rebel returnees included 13 minors, in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) prohibiting the recruitment of children as combatants.
“These are just 13 child warriors who, after years of being with the NPA, have decided to lay down their arms and try to live a normal life. There are many more [child warriors] out there in the mountains. They should stop using children as warriors,” Bautista said.
Ronjie Salintao was only 14 years old when he joined the communist movement in his hometown in Loreto, Agusan del Sur. He spent 4 years with the movement before deciding to leave it for a normal life, far from the armed struggle.
Salintao narrated that he joined some of the skirmishes with the military, carrying provisions and guns for the elder rebels.
Jong Manlantagan, a Manobo tribe child, was only 14 years old when his family joined the movement. They lived in the mountainous area of San Fernando town in Bukidnon, an isolated and depressed area and a known NPA lair not reached by government services.
Manlatagan said he and his family members decided to break away from the rebel group because they were tired of living on the run.
Most of the rebel-returnees were regular NPA members while the others were members of the Militia ng Bayan operating in the mountainous areas of the Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions. Forty-eight are from Bukidnon, 18 from Agusan del Sur, 3 from Surigao del Sur, one from Agusan del Norte, and two from Misamis Oriental.
Guns for money, livelihood
Captain Christian Uy, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division, said that there were several reasons that push rebels to give up the armed struggle, such as false promises of their commanders, and the fear of being killed in military encounters.
The returnees received compensation for surrendering their guns under the AFP’s Gun for Peace program, and financial assistance under the government’s Social Integration and Livelihood Program.
If they decide to return to farming, they will be given a hectare of land to till in the military reservation in Kalilangan, Bukidnon.
The land is primed for planting coffee, is a joint venture of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of National Defense (DND) and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Bautista urged the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA) to return to the negotiating table.
“Nothing has been resolved with armed struggles,” he said.
The group of rebel returnees first surrendered to government authorities in South Poblacion, Maramag, Bukidnon on March 22, 2014. The Cagayan de Oro ceremony formalized their surrender and facilitated the turnover of their firearms.
The formal surrender of the rebels came less than a week after authorities arrested alleged top CPP-NPA leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon. President Benigno Aquino III said this had dealt a “serious blow” to the communist insurgency.
The Tiamzons and the CPP-NPA-NDF claimed that the arrest is illegal, since the two were NDF consultants in peace negotiations with the government and as such are supposedly covered by the Joint Agreement on Immunity and Safety Guarantees (Jasig) which should protect them from arrest for the duration of the peace process.
Government negotiators, however, maintained that the peace negotiations have been stalled and that the NDF had earlier stated that they do not plan to seal a peace deal with the Aquino administration. – Rappler.com