TRAINING FOR A NEW LIFE. Former communist guerrillas attend to their laboratory farms in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, as part of a short course to prepare them for a new life outside the rebel movement. The 17 graduates completed the Primerong Kurso sa Pagbag-ong Kinabuhi Level 3 Class 1-2020 at Camp Osito Bahian, Malaybalay City Sunday (Feb. 23, 2020). (Photo courtesy of the 403rd Infantry Brigade)

MALAYBALAY CITY — Seventeen former combatants of the communist New People's Army (NPA) completed the Primerong Kurso sa Pagbag-ong Kinabuhi Level 3 (PKPK-3) Class 1-2020 at Camp Osito Bahian in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon over the weekend.

According to Capt. Ryan Layug, PKPK-3 director, the technical-vocational course is the first part of the "mainstreaming process" for former rebels prior to their enrollment to the halfway houses managed by local governments.

While in the halfway houses, they will then undergo further training and capacity building activities to be able to avail aid packages and incentives under the government's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP).

Layug said six of the PKPK-3 graduates are from Misamis Oriental, while the remaining 11 are from Bukidnon.

One of the course graduates was Resylyn Pardo, the former secretary of the NPA's Guerrilla Front 6 (GF6) operating in southern Bukidnon.

"I am happy to have finally met real soldiers who risk their lives for our people and that I have finally felt real freedom," Pardo said during the graduation.

Layug said Pardo's classmates included former rebels who used to occupy high-ranking positions in the NPA such as political instructors, squad leaders, platoon medic, and a front commanding officer.

"We believe in the kindness of their hearts before they were radicalized by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) through New People's Army," Layug said. "Their innocence was abused and they were made to believe that bearing arms and fighting the government is the way to achieve their means."

In a statement on Sunday, 403rd Infantry Brigade said the PKPK-3 aims to "slowly return" the former rebels "to their old self as loving children and God-centered individuals."

Layug said the female graduates were treated to a Valentine's Day treat that included a surprise serenade from their husbands.

During the 17-day course, Layug said the participants learned of farm equipment handling and high-value crop production.

Col. Ferdinand Barandon, the newly- installed commander of 403Bde which has jurisdiction of parts of Misamis Oriental, Camiguin, Cagayan de Oro, and Bukidnon, said he was elated seeing the former rebels living a new life.

"I was then a young company commander in San Fernando, Bukidnon. Seeing you today after almost three decades and hearing your messages longing to live a peaceful life with your family melts my heart. I'm filled with gratitude that you have finally returned home," Barandon told the graduates. (PNA)