PEACE ADVOCATES. A total of 125 youths from Mabinay, Negros Oriental have completed a three-day Youth Leader Summit initiated by the Philippine Army. The youth summit aims to empower the participants in nation-building while helping promote peace. (Photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

DUMAGUETE CITY – Leaders and graduates in a Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) in Mabinay town, Negros Oriental have vowed to promote peace and help the government fight the insurgency.

On Monday afternoon, 125 young people, with ages ranging from 11 to 28, completed a three-day youth summit initiated by the 11th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and facilitated by leaders of the Youth for Peace and Development Philippines-Negros Oriental chapter.

“The goal of our organization is to promote sustainable peace and youth empowerment,” said Aljoy Cañedo, 22, of Manjuyod, Negros Oriental and the president of the provincial Youth for Peace.

Having completed the provincial YLS a few years ago, she led other youth facilitators in assisting in the three-day summit, initiated by the 11th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, from July 2-4 at the Mabinay National High School.

The participants were from the 32 barangays of Mabinay, a mountainous municipality with a few villages that are still under threat by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Some of the participants were members of the indigenous peoples (IP) Ata group and children of former rebels.

Promoting peace, progress through the youth

The youth summit aims to provide the participants with the knowledge and the skills that would enable them to go through life, meet challenges along the way and deal with problems, said Lt. Pearl Lanuza, the Civil-Military Operations officer of the 11th IB.

While the 11IB initiated the activity, Lanuza said they gave a “free hand” to the young facilitators to run the three-day summit, with the military providing support.

Cañedo said working and cooperating with government authorities, such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is one way for them to sustain their take-aways from activities like the youth summit.

After the activity, the graduates go back to their respective communities and are expected to share their learnings with the other young people and apply their leadership skills, she said.

“They have strong passion, love for their country, and the spirit to serve. So if these ideologies are not put to good use and channeled properly, they become highly (vulnerable) to recruitment from the CPP-NPA,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lee Atom Baroro, 24, the Sangguniang Kabataan chairman of Barangay Hagtu and concurrent SK Federation vice president of Mabinay, said he was inspired to join the summit because it provides an avenue for the youth to improve their leadership skills.

“The summit teaches us how to plan out projects for the youth in the barangays and develop their teaching skills,” Baroro said in Cebuano.

Representing the LGBTQ+A sector, he said he will cascade the learnings from the summit in smaller gatherings at the barangay level to cover the entire municipality.

He hopes that through these activities, there will be unity and peace among the young people in the barangays.

On the insurgency problem, Baroro says part of the responsibility of the SK would be to encourage vigilance against recruitment of the youth to the underground movement.

For his part, Adonis Cabugnason, SK chairman of Barangay Canggohob and a member of Tribu Ata, said their IP tribe has plenty of young people that have the potential to become leaders someday.

In fact, many of them are already college graduates and working as professionals, he said.

“This summit will help the IP youth overcome their shyness and will learn to mingle with others,” he said, noting that there are 13 of them from their tribe that attended the activity.

Asked about his dreams for the future of the IP youth, Cabugnason said that all will earn proper education and land decent jobs, and in fact, some are even interested in joining the Philippine Army.

He recounted that in the past, CPP-NPA members would pass through Canggohob, but their tribal chieftain requested them to not stay in their village to avoid being caught in the conflict between the insurgents and the government troops.

Cabugnason said they will continue to help the government in their efforts to attain peace.

Preparing the youth as future leaders

Recognizing the role of the youth in nation-building, Brig. Gen. Leonardo Peña, commander of the 302nd Infantry Brigade, who was the guest of honor and speaker at the closing rites, lauded them for their participation while urging them to not lose sight of a good future ahead of them.

“Probably five to ten years from now, depending on your age, you will become leaders or professionals. You need to be fully equipped in terms of education so that your minds will not be poisoned (by the CPP-NPA), thus ruining your lives,” Peña said in mixed English and Cebuano.

“The Youth Leadership Summit is one of the government’s designs to support our National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” he added.

The Army commander said the government is doing a lot to preserve the younger generations to make them “the hope of our motherland but the choice is yours”.

Lt. Col. Roderick Salayo, 11IB commander, said that this is the second YLS that the battalion under his command had initiated in Negros Oriental, the first one being held in Bayawan City months earlier.

Salayo told the participants to be “a part of the solution and not a part of the problem”.

He thanked Mabinay Mayor Ernesto Uy and his wife, Vice Mayor Joeterry Uy, for supporting the youth summit and the government’s campaign against the CPP-NPA.

He said undertaking this non-combat approach to peace by empowering the youth is just one of the many ways that his battalion has endeavored to end the insurgency in Negros Oriental.

A province-wide YLS is eyed by the end of this year, as those wanting to be members of the Youth for Peace must first complete this activity.

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)