REDEMPTION. Former rebels in Davao Region and Agusan del Sur provinces attend a 'healing and reconciliation' gathering facilitated by the Army sometime in May 2022. The Army's 60th Infantry Brigade said it has organized three of such sessions last month, where former rebels ask forgiveness from the tribe members for past atrocities. (Photo courtesy of 60IB)

DAVAO CITY—The Army has facilitated the “healing and reconciliation” between former New People's Army (NPA) fighters and Indigenous Peoples (IPs) in Davao and Agusan provinces, resolving decades-old conflict wrought by the communist rebels' atrocities on tribal communities.

“Rebels who returned to the fold of the law want to redeem themselves by asking for forgiveness from the tribes that fell victims of their crimes in the areas where they used to operate,” the Army's 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, Capt. Mark Anthony Tito, said in an interview Wednesday.

In three separate events last month, Tito said the Army's 60th Infantry Battalion organized meetups between former rebels and tribal communities in Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, and Agusan del Sur.

He said the gatherings afforded former rebels under the now dismantled NPA Guerilla Front 3 to meet IP members in person and ask forgiveness for past atrocities.

Former NPA commander Maximo Catarata, who joined one of the “healing and reconciliation” sessions, underscored the importance of "repairing the broken relations” between the tribes and former rebels.

This was necessary, Catarata said, to achieve lasting peace and for former rebels to atone for their past abuses.

Catarata, who used to lead the Guerilla Front 3 of the NPA, surrendered on March 31 this year along with 18 members of his group. They yielded 33 high-powered firearms.

Lt. Col. Merrill Sumalinog, acting 60IB commander, said Catarata and his colleagues have been enrolled in the government's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

“We initiated the reconciliation of the exonerated communist-terrorist groups with the communities that they previously victimized," Sumalinog said in a statement.

He said they have facilitated "healing and reconciliation sessions" between former NPA fighters and the Ata, Langilan, Manobo, and Dibabawon tribes of Kapalong, Davao del Norte, Laak, Davao de Oro, and Loreto, Veruela, and La Paz in Agusan del Sur.

“With their sincere acts of surrender, we are looking forward that the former rebels will live the rest of their lives productively in their respective communities and be able to work and send their children to school free from fear,” Sumalinog said. (PNA)