MASS SURRENDER. Five communist rebel militiamen and 448 underground supporters of the New People's Army yield to the government during a mass surrender on Thursday (Jan. 21, 2021) in Barangay Casiklan, Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte. Army officials say the surrender would push the other rebels to return to the fold of the law. (Photo courtesy of 23IB)

BUTUAN CITY – At least 448 underground supporters of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the Agusan del Norte town of Las Nieves have pledged loyalty to the government during a mass surrender Thursday afternoon, the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion (23IB) said.

 Five members of the Milisya ng Bayan (MB) under the Guerrilla Front 4 of the NPA's North Central Mindanao Regional Committee (NCMRC) also surrendered to the government on the same day, 1Lt. Roel T. Maglalang, 23IB civil-military operations officer, told the Philippine News Agency on Friday.

Maglalang said the mass surrender was the result of the massive peace consultations and dialogues conducted by the unit in the said barangay since December last year.

“These dialogues and consultations were designed to allow residents to ventilate their issues and concerns, especially on peace and security in their community,” Maglalang said.

Among the concerns raised by the residents were the extortion activities and harassment of the NPA rebels in their community, the Army official said.

 “The residents are already tired of hardships brought about by these terrorist NPAs. All they want now is for the government to address the development gaps in their community. Development initiatives in the area, for a long period of time, have been barred by the NPA,” he said.

Thursday's mass surrender was witnessed by Mayor Avelina S. Rosales of Las Nieves, Administrator Jerry S. Laurito who represented Gov. Dale B. Corvera of Agusan del Norte, and Rey Cueva, the provincial director of Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in the province.

Lt. Col. Julius Cesar C. Paulo, 23IB commander, acknowledged the courage of the villagers in helping the government put an end to the insurgency problem in their community.

“For 52 years, thousands of villagers were seduced by and recruited by the NPA. But what accomplishment or contributions, especially in terms of economic development, the NPA brought and implemented in Casiklan? Nothing. They only brought havoc into the lives of the people in Casiklan,” Paulo said.

He also underscored the importance of the mass surrender, saying it would push the remaining NPA combatants in the area to return to the fold of the law.

“The NPA will suffer more from hunger and exhaustion as the people will no longer welcome them in this community. They can no longer extort money and ask for food supplies to support their daily needs,” Paulo said.

The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)