13 Samar ‘NPA leaders’ surrender; Army vows sustained support for ex-rebels

Jazmin Bonifacio
13 Samar ‘NPA leaders’ surrender; Army vows sustained support for ex-rebels

TURNED OVER. The 13 rebels in Samar province who surrendered on January 12 turned over firearms, and these ammunition and medical paraphernalia to the military.

Jazmin Bonifacio

Army and civilian officials say that consolidating and expanding anti-insurgency gains will hinge on ensuring the former rebels' needs are met and the development of grassroots communities

CATBALOGAN, Philippines – Armed Forces officials on Samar island stressed the need for funding the reintegration of former communist rebels as they presented 13 alleged surrenderers described as New People’s Army (NPA) “leaders” on Tuesday, January 17.

The group was led by Dino Bachica alias Linoy, identified as the former chief of the NPA Sentro De Grabidad, Bugsok Platoon, a unit supervised by sub regional committee (SRC) Sesame of the Eastern Visayas regional committee (EVRPC).

The 13 surrenderers reportedly turned over 10 M16 rifles, 2 cal. 45, and 1  Glock 17 pistol, anti-personnel mines, medical paraphernalia, and ammunition to the 801st Brigade Philippine Army, based in Brgy Fatima, Hinabangan, Samar on January 12.

Brigade commander, Brigadier General Lenard Lelina, told Rappler that the Bugsok Platoon operates in the tri-boundaries of Pinabacdao, Calbiga, and Basey towns, all in Samar province. 

The Army brigade operates in the second district of Samar and part of Eastern Samar.

Lelina said that the brigade in 2022 received 77 rebel  surrenderers, 102 members of the local militia (part-time guerrillas),  and 929 mass supporters who withdrew membership in or support to the NPA and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which supersedes the armed wing.

Ten rebels were killed and three other regular NPA fighters captured in the area, Lelina added.

The general claimed the “disintegration of the leaders and members of the Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee,” crediting this to successful efforts in nurturing peace builders – a term the AFP also uses for surrenderers.

The bulk of surrenderers, he said, came from Calbiga, Pinabacdao, and Villareal towns.

The CPP-NPA has suffered a series of setbacks on Samar island, culminating in the August 2022 explosion of a boat believed to be carrying top national officials of the insurgency.

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Lelina in an interview with Rappler said the AFP intends to sustain its gains by organizing surrenderers into Peacebuilder Groups, ensuring constant engagement, and working so they get benefits from different peace and development programs for livelihood and integration into the community.

NTF-ELCAC

Lelina said funds from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) are crucial to sustaining the peace.

“It helps address the issues in the barangay. When we win the hearts of the community, that’s reduction of mass support to the NPAs,” he said.

“A female former rebel told us yesterday that the primary reason why she surrendered is due to a steep decline in the number of their mass supporters,” the 801st brigade chief added in a mix of Filipino and English..

NTF-ELCAC are “development funds” used to reward barangays that cooperate with the AFP to clear their communities of communist presence.

“We have reaped what we have sown. Our anti-insurgency campaign together with our ELCAC programs have proven to be fruitful,’ said Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan during the presentation.

She described the surrenderers as “witnesses to how the whole-of-nation approach has been effective, and how the government is sincere with its efforts to reintegrate them to the community, and liberate them from the false promises”  of communist rebels.

AID FOR EX-REBELS. From left, Alma Austero (Samar Provincial DSWD officer),  801st Brigade Commander, BGen Lenard Lelina,  Samar Vice Governor Arnold Tan, 8ID Commander, Major General Camilo Ligayo, Samar Provincial DILG officer Judy Batulan, and Police Lt. col Harry Rebato, representative of Samar PNP Provincial Director during the presentation of rebel surrenderers from the higher ranks of the New People’s Army in Samar province. They all back the continuation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to sustain aid for former rebels. Jazmin Bonifacio/Rappler

The task force was formed on December 4, 2018 by then president Rodrigo Duterte as the bulwark of the government’s “whole-of-nation” approach in defeating Asia’s longest communist rebellion. 

After scuttling peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) in 2017, Duterte gave NTF-ELCAC the mandate to tap the entire bureaucracy, and government networks and resources to crush the 50-year-old communist rebellion.

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Spotty record

The NFT-ELCAC’s record has been spotty, however.

Former officials of NTF-ELCAC hogged headlines with their verbal attacks not just against the CPP-NPA but even the political opposition and media, including Rappler. 

But critics, including senators, have slammed its stewardship of the funds and questioned its lack of efficiency in project implementation. 

The NTF-ELCAC’s Barangay Development Program had a P16.4 billion budget in 2021, but only 26 out 2,318 projects were completed by the time the 2022 budget hearings got underway. 

That finding prompted senators to slash its budget by P24 billion, but they eventually compromised, with Congress’s bicameral committee giving the NTF-ELCAC P17 billion for 2022.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s point men in the House of Representatives pushed for the restoration of the NTF-ELCAC’s budget in November 2022, they admitted that “only two percent of NTF-ELCAC’s 2022 projects has been completed or ongoing.”

While there is no doubt that the country’s long-running insurgency is based on persistent problems of poverty and injustice, what is not clear is, if the NTF-ELCAC recipe addresses the roots of conflict.

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With reports from Ricky Bautista/Rappler.com

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