CEBU CITY – The successful whole-of-nation programs of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) have changed the lives of former Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) rebels who are now productive members of society after receiving various government assistance, an official said on Wednesday.
Secretary Michael Lloyd Dino, head of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV), cited the “Dagyawan sa Barangay” and “Serbisyo Caravan” as two of such programs, which are engagement platforms down to the grassroots level.
The Basic Services Cluster of the Regional Task Force End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC-7), he noted, is very successful in engaging the communities in a series of dialogues with the government with the aim of addressing the root cause of the insurgency.
“Government officials pledged to support and collaborate with the local communities in the provinces to promote transparency and strengthen grassroots participation in identifying issues from and potential programs for their respective communities,” Dino told the Philippine News Agency.
He said President Rodrigo Duterte’s whole-of-nation approach as embodied in the Executive Order 70 signed in 2018 has “proven very effective particularly in Central Visayas because it enables a collaborative multi-sectoral approach" that has unearthed a wide array of concerns and issues from the folks who reeled from the hampered development in their area due to insurgency.
He said the whole-of-nation approach has squarely engaged the folks “down to the barangay level, in our pursuit for a sustainable peace and tangible development”.
“We are very appreciative of the active support from our Central Visayas local government units (LGU) in the NTF-ELCAC programs. Their willingness to participate, even making initiatives in this undertaking only shows that they too, would like to finally get rid and move on from this long-standing problem on armed insurgency especially in the conflict-affected and vulnerable areas,” Dino said.
In August 2019, the NTF-ELCAC through the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) launched Dagyawan sa Barangay, a localized version of “Dagyaw 2019: Open Government and Participatory Governance Regional Townhall Meeting”, which involves a series of government dialogues with the stakeholders at the grassroots level.
Since the inception of OPAV in November 2016, Dino, through the help of then Special Assistant to the President, now Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, started to roll out Serbisyo Caravan down to the barangays in the Visayas.
Consistent with its mission, “Bringing the voice of the Visayans to Malacañang, Bringing Malacañang right at the doorstep of the Visayans,” the office implemented numerous Serbisyo Caravan events in different provinces, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, government and private doctors, different government agencies and LGUs bringing services to the barrio folks.
Life after armed struggle
Among the former rebels who received aid through the NTF-ELCAC initiatives is Maria (not her real name), a 27-year-old former NPA rebel who totally abandoned their lost cause in exchange for embracing a life of peace as a useful citizen of the country.
Maria is just one of the 128 former NPA rebels who received the Livelihood Settlement Grant through the Sustainable Livelihood Program of the NTF-ELCAC implemented by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Mary Gloryn Mangarao, project development officer of the DSWD-Central Visayas Sustainable Livelihood Programs, said in a statement that Maria is now a small business owner tending to her “sari-sari” store out of the grant facilitated by the RTF-ELCAC-7.
Mangarao, who monitors the progress of Maria’s livelihood project, said the family of the former rebel has earned a net income of PHP22,890 from the undertaking, deposited in a bank in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.
She said Maria’s family also acquired a motorcycle, bought fertilizers for their crops, and gained more customers in their community because they offer reasonable prices.
All these happened within six months after the grant’s release, Mangarao said.
OPAV reported that as of this month, over PHP6 million worth of assistance has been given to a total of 128 former rebels through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).
"Gusto nako nga magmalampuson ug mahimong professionals akong mga anak puhon (I want my children to be successful professionals, one day)," Maria was quoted as saying.
At the age of 16, Maria dreamed of a better future. But when a relative persuaded and promised her that the CPP-NPA would give her a better life, she joined and became a rebel despite her widowed mother’s warning.
“Nagtuo ko nga nindot akong kaugmaon kung moapil ko sa rebeldeng grupo (I thought I would have a better future if I join the group),” said Maria, the fourth of five siblings whose father died in the early 2000s.
However, she soon realized that the promise of a better life was void, and later on, she decided to surrender and cooperate with the government.
In November 2020, Maria’s family received PHP20,000 cash from the SLP’s livelihood settlement grant (LSG) under Executive Order 70.
Continuity of NTF-ELCAC gains
With the gains of the programs designed by NTF-ELCAC, tapping government agencies in addressing insurgency-related issues down to the barangay level, Dino said he hopes for its continuity even beyond the Duterte administration.
“Definitely. We have made great strides in our pursuit for peace with the ELCAC programs," he said, adding that the projects have enticed those who are still actively fighting in the mountains to lay down their arms and surrender in exchange for livelihood and other assistance for their transformed life in the future.
As the whole-of-nation approach ushered peace in Central Visayas, social and infrastructure development became imminent, he said.
Dino, citing the success stories of former rebels who received financial and other forms of assistance from the government, sees the need for the NTF-ELCAC to be continued in order to sustain the momentum in crashing the 50-year Maoist rebellion.
“Not only are we able to address armed conflict with these programs, but we are also able to promote development in the countryside by creating resilient communities and providing livelihood to the Filipino people, with the goal of giving them happy and comfortable lives,” Dino said.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)