SAN ISIDRO, Leyte, January 24, 2020 — President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Thursday called on communist insurgents to consider the future of their children and finally put an end to the decades-long armed rebellion in the country.

“Let’s stop the armed conflict. Have mercy on your children,” the President said, as he addressed active members of the New People’s Army (NPA) during the distribution of government assistance packages to at least 33 former NPA rebels and 229 Militia ng Bayan here.

Ending the cycle of violence through education, livelihood programs

President Duterte said the generational cycle of violence perpetrated by the communist rebels must come to an end.

The President underscored that the country’s youth must be educated in order to protect from the influence of the Reds, who use armed violence to promote their outdated cause.

“What’s important is for your children to have quality education,” President Duterte said.

The Chief Executive said the government is ready to help members of the communist group reintegrate themselves into mainstream society through programs under the Executive Order 70 which institutionalized a “Whole-Of-Nation” approach.

“We cannot solve the problem of the Philippines by revolution…It has to be by evolution,” President Duterte emphasized.

“My brothers and sisters in the NPA, our country could have been highly developed if not because of your violence,” he said

President Duterte noted that through the EO 70, the administration is carrying out initiatives to directly address the roots of the insurgency in the country.

Land reform: key to ending the rebellion

As part of its efforts to push forward the peace process with the rebels, President Duterte vowed to distribute public lands to Filipinos in the countryside, especially to farmers.

“I will continue to distribute lands to you Filipinos,” he said, adding, “We in the government are doing everything” to help uplift the economic wellbeing of the people.

The President emphasized that the government is determined to implement its land reform program throughout the country.

President Duterte said that under his administration, the government has already distributed at least 140,000 hectares through its land reform program. He directed Secretary Castriciones to expedite the processing of lands for the returning rebels.

Testimonials of ex-rebels 

Among the rebel returnees who have benefited from the government’s interventions is Rochelle Etol, 52, who was an NPA cadre for 30 years.

Etol shared that he was finally convinced to surrender when one of the rebel group’s top leaders who was captured by government forces was given socio-economic projects.

“Let’s not waste the government’s help to us,” he said in the vernacular, as he urged his former comrades give up armed struggle.

Another returnee whose life has turned around for the better is Librado Bongato, 60. He joined the insurgency movement in 1983.

“I have been fighting the government since Marco’s time. It’s only now that I decided to surrender under the administration of Duterte because of the government’s sincerity,” Bongato said.

He said the difficult conditions in the mountains made him decide to return to the folds of the law and start a new life with his family.

“I am old. We are hungry. We did not have enough sleep. The military’s continuing operations took a toll on us,” Bongato recalled.

He said he never felt threatened when he peacefully turned himself in to authorities.

“I am glad on how the military has accepted me,” Bongato said, adding that the great sense of professionalism displayed by members of the armed forces and the sincerity showed by President Duterte has been instrumental in the reformation process of former rebels like him.

“We feel we have a father,” he said, referring to the President.

The 262 former rebels received a total of P11, 905-million immediate cash assistance from the government under various programs such as Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program or E-CLIP. This is on top of the P5, 000 and cellular phone that will be given each to the former rebel from the Office of the President.

Another P5-million was also provided to the local government unit for the construction of the halfway house for the former rebels.

A total to 52.2 hectares of land was also distributed to the former rebels.

Addressing the roots of the insurgency

Meanwhile, Leyte Governor Dominico Petilla said the government has been working hard to address poverty in the province, which he described as the “root cause” of the communist insurgency in the area.

“To the NPA members, you have been with the communist movement for years, so how’s your living conditions? I doubt, it is still the same — poor,” Petilla said.

The governor said the provincial government is implementing “Leyte economics” which involves not only providing livelihood assistance, but also health and education programs to the former rebels.

“Ngayon, malaki itong tulong sa province of Leyte kaya malaki ang pasalamat ko kay President Duterte na gumawa siya ng EO 70 para ang local government, kasama ang mga mayors at mga barangay officials nagsanib pwersa na sa national government,” Petilla said.

“Lahat na mga ahensya sa national government andito na para tumulong,” he told the surrenderees.

“Let me remind you that we are in the business of building a better nation. And also, do not forget that the greatest resource of our country walang iba kundi ang ating mga katauhan, our people,” Petilla stressed.

“So let us build on our people. Let us take the people out of poverty, God loving people, people loving people, and nation loving people — that’s what makes our country great,” he said.

E.O. 70 gains traction

For his part, Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito G. Galvez said the success being experienced by the province of Leyte in addressing the communist rebellion shows that EO 70 works and is the best strategy of the government in fighting the five decades long conflict.

“The implementation of EO 70 is a major component of the peace process, and is designed to end the influence of the communist rebels in the country,” Galvez said.

He noted that through localized peace engagements being conducted under the Whole-Of-Nation approach, the communist movement is fast losing ground following the mass surrender of CPP-NPA members.

Accompanying President Duterte during the event were Senator Christopher Lawrence Go, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Interior Government Secretary Eduardo Año, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario and Secretary Carlito G Galvez Jr.