At least 51 former members of the New People's Army (NPA) from Eastern and Northern Samar provinces pledged their loyalty to the government on Monday as they received PHP4.2 million worth of assistance to rebuild their lives. Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. led the distribution of checks before the start of the Joint Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (JRTF ELCAC) meeting at the Summit Hotel here. Abalos congratulated the 36 former rebels in Northern Samar and 15 others from Eastern Samar when they decided to abandon armed struggle and joined the government's peace and development initiatives. 'The changes in your lives and the healing of your communities are signs of the success of the government's effort to end local communist armed conflict,' he said. The assistance was part of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) funds. Each former rebel was granted immediate assistance worth PHP15,000. Aside from the immediate assistance, others also got PHP50,000 livelihood aid each. Those who yielded with firearms got more cash aid. The amount varies depending on the type of firearms turned over to authorities. E-CLIP is the government's program for rebel returnees to help reintegrate them into the community and provide them and their families with a complete package of assistance. The financial package covers immediate assistance, provision of a reintegration process, a starting capital for livelihood, as well as remunerating surrendered firearms. Alias James, 22, of Arteche, Eastern Samar, who joined the NPA for three years as a combatant in the mountain areas within the boundary of Eastern Samar and Northern Samar provinces, thanked the government for the assistance. He received a PHP65,000 check from the DILG as an immediate livelihood grant. 'I decided to surrender since I was so tired of fighting and running. I want to live a normal life and I will use this assistance to start a piggery,' James said. Abalos thanked the efforts of local task forces ELCAC that encouraged more rebels to surrender in the past year. 'Under the leadership of President Marcos, our government is in full force -along with its various agencies in continuing to respond to the needs of former rebels. This is a whole-of-nation approach and almost all government agencies have a role to play,' he added. Abalos said the DILG in Eastern Visayas has already released PHP37.5 million in assistance to 621 former rebels in the region since 2017. The DILG also supported the construction of four halfway houses in the region. A halfway house refers to the temporary residence that serves as the processing center for former rebels. The official was in the city to preside over the JRTF ELCAC and lead the demilitarization of 53 firearms seized from rebels. Meanwhile, the military recorded 12 encounters in the Visayas during month-long security operations that also led to the neutralization of 54 NPA rebels, including two ranking leaders. In a statement Monday, the Visayas Command (Viscom) said 32 rebels surrendered while 19 died in the encounters, and three were arrested. The soldiers also seized 38 assorted firearms and nine anti-personnel mines. 'Our collective efforts with the local government units in clearing the barangays from NPA infestation has gained ground,' Viscom chief Lt. Gen. Benedict Arevalo said. Arevalo said the people in the Visayas are now more active in supporting the military's internal security operations, resulting in the series of setbacks suffered by the terrorist group in the Visayas region.
Source: Philippines News Agency