LOOK: Government brings former NPA rebels to Hong Kong for sightseeing, shopping
MANILA, Philippines – Can towering skyscrapers and Mickey Mouse plushies entice communist rebels to embrace the capitalist lifestyle?
That's the idea, said the Davao-based Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), in taking 88 former New People's Army (NPA) rebels on an all-expense-paid trip to Hong Kong from July 30 to August 2.
"The purpose of the tour, which includes a visit to some historical places in Hong Kong and its market place is to allow the former rebels to experience the life in a modern urban setting and provide them a better and another perspective in life," AFP EastMinCom said in a statement.
Handout photos showed the tour's participants posing at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor and souvenir stalls, shopping bags in hand.
"The tour contributes in the continuing therapy and integration process for these beneficiaries as they slowly adapt to the normal life," AFP EastMinCom chied Lieutenant General Felimon Santos Jr said in the statement.
The tour participants were former rebels from different areas under EastMinCom's jurisdiction, which are some of the remaining strongholds of the NPA. EastMinCom includes Davao, Compostela, Cagayan de Oro, Maguindanao, among others.
The former rebels are undergoing an "integration process," the statement said.
The government-sponsored trip of the former NPA rebels took place two weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte promised an audience of former rebels that he would send a few of them to China so they could see how capitalism has driven the economy, even of a country run by a communist government.
"Go to China. Isn’t that what you are following, the communists? So go to China. Look at China after they let go of communism," he said in Bisaya on July 16 in Tagum, Davao del Norte, where former rebels were about to receive housing units.
"Look at what China is today. You will be awed. Communism for them now is just a way of running the government, of power. But if you say it’s a way of life, no one will follow that," he said.
Many in the audience were not sure whether to take Duterte seriously. But the President followed up his promise with instructions from his trusted aide and then senator-elect Bong Go.
"Bong, senator. Choose 5 from them. Request them – let them go, go to China," said Duterte.
Back in October 2017, several female soldiers who fought in Marawi were also treated to an all-expense-paid trip to Hong Kong by the Palace. This was also after a promise made by Duterte during a speech in Marawi.
Duterte had said low-cost airline Cebu Pacific had offered to shoulder the airfare expenses.
The following year, 2018, some female soldiers who fought in Marawi were again rewarded with a free Hong Kong trip.
Philippine Army chief Lt General Macairog Alberto had been quoted by the Manila Bulletin as saying the funds for the trip came from Duterte "through his friends who donated the money." – with reports from Pia Ranada/ Rappler.com