DIALOGUE. A soldier explains to villagers in a remote, hinterland barangay in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental, the benefits of E-CLIP for members of the New People's Army who will surrender. The 11th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army held a forum, followed by a peace concert, on Sunday (June 19, 2022) in Sitio Kanggabok in Barangay Nagbinlod. (Photo courtesy of the 11IB, PA)

DUMAGUETE CITY – Despite a hard life due to the lack of basic services in their community, residents of a remote hinterland barangay in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental have vowed to help the government in ending the insurgency with the hopes of a better future for their children.

Barangay Nagbinlod, Sta. Catalina residents on Sunday night joined the peace concert initiated by the 11th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army at Kanggabok Elementary School in the sitio (sub-village) of Kanggabok.

Lt. Col. Roderick Salayo, 11IB commander, said the event was another non-combat approach to convincing people in insurgency-affected areas that the government is serious in pushing for peace and development.

“This is anchored on our framework of peace and security and development, and this peace concert is the start of a collaboration between the military, police, and the local government unit (LGU) of Sta. Catalina, and later on, other government agencies who can address their issues and concerns,” Salayo said in mixed English and Filipino.

Barangay Nagbinlod chief Ronel Sobreviga said they will not allow recruitment activities in their village as villagers will also inform authorities on the presence of suspicious people in their barangay.

Salayo said the peace concert came on the heels of a series of surrenders by members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), with the latest done by two brothers who hail from Barangay Nagbinlod, he said.

Peace via basic services

Earlier, the 11IB found out that the common issues and concerns raised were infrastructure, specifically road concreting, electrification, and water supply during a consultation.
Kanggabok is a hilly sub-village about 15 kilometers from the national highway with no electricity and little water supply, while the road leading through the barangay to the interior sitio is partly paved with large portions that are rough roads.

Salayo said residents are seeking to prioritize the road because farm produce cannot be brought to the markets.

“It is undeniable that the hinterland communities are the ones deprived of development, and our role is to help bring their concerns to the proper authorities and agencies that can address these,” he said.

No more resurgence of insurgency

Nagbinlod is currently a barangay that is classified as “cleared” of the NPA insurgency, but the risk is still present as some of its residents have relatives who are still in the underground movement.

The father of the brothers from Payaw-payawan, another sub-village in Nagbinlod, who surrendered last week, is still active in the armed struggle, although efforts are now being made by the family members to send out a message to him to surrender.

“The threat is also there as some active NPA members visit Nagbinlod sometimes, whether just passing through or to contact former mass base supporters,” Salayo said.

The NPA guerilla front operating in Sta. Catalina and nearby areas, known as the South East Front, have been tagged by the state forces as dismantled, but there are still remnants of about 30 of them that are attempting to recruit members, he said.

A former rebel, “Ka Rogen”, who hails from the nearby Barangay Talalak but had formerly operated in Nagbinlod, spoke during the “pulong-pulong” about the hardships of being always on the run while with the NPA.

“Ka Rogen” disproved the myth being spread around that those who would surrender would be killed by government forces by describing his current living conditions after having availed of the government’s Expanded Comprehensive Integrated Livelihood Program (E-CLIP) for former rebels.

Peace concert for progress, dev’t

Salayo said messages of peace across to the villagers via the performing arts will hopefully spur commitment to refrain from joining or supporting the insurgency, Salayo said.

The peace concert showed that soldiers also are capable of humanitarian missions and are all about public service, and the delivery of basic services, Salayo said.

During the peace concert, soldiers performed dance and song numbers, with some residents joining in.

A peace advocate, Nicky Dumapit, a local environmentalist, played musical instruments that he made from recycled materials, a bull horn, bamboo, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) water and electrical hoses.

Conduit for change

Having identified the issues and concerns of the village, Salayo said they will bring these concerns to the LGU and the proper agencies so that they can be addressed.

“It will be a very, very big leap in terms of their economic status, and we will be among those who will continuously give suggestions to the local chief executive on areas in Sta. Catalina” he said.

He said he hopes the next gathering with the villagers would include the Provincial Engineer’s Office and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NICP) because there is an indigenous group there that has not been properly documented.

He said the military does not have all the solutions to these concerns but they will connect these communities to the concerned agencies.

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.

The National Democratic Front has been formally designated as a terrorist organization by the Anti-Terrorism Council on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and inseparable part” of the CPP-NPA created in April 1973. (PNA)