By Celso Amo
LEGAZPI CITY --- Twenty-two New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, some of them squad leaders and political officers, surrendered to the Joint Task Force Bicolandia after it was launched Monday morning, June 11, in Barangay Dap-Dap here.
The erstwhile rebels were reportedly operating in the towns of Casiguran, Gubat and Sorsogon City, all in Sorsogon province.
They voluntarily surrendered through the concerted efforts of the local government units, particularly Sorsogon Gov. Robert Lee Rodrigueza, the 903rd Infantry Brigade based in Castilla, Sorsogon under Brig. Gen. Greg Almerol and Sorsogon provincial police office headed by Senior Supt. Marlon Tejada.
Present during the presentation of the surrenderees were Naval Forces of Southern Luzon and Air Force Tactical Operations Group-5.
“This was the result of a community support program for NPA units and their mass bases in Casiguran, Gubat, and Sorsogon City to voluntarily decide to return to the fold of the law by taking advantage of the benefits of the Comprehensive Integration Program,” according to Brig. Gen. Almerol.
President Duterte has improved CLIP to an Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) by including Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to provide skills training to rebel returnees so they will have the skills to be employed and to put up their own livelihood programs.
The NPA rebels surrendered an M-16 rifle, M-635, an M-14 rifle, a modified M-1 rifle, three cal. 45 pistols and magazines.
Major General Jesus Manangquil Jr., 9th Infantry Division commander, said most of the surrenderers are political officers and squad and platoon leaders operating in Sorsogon province.
“If we continue to kill each other, nobody will be the winner and we are all losers because we are Filipinos,” stressed Major Gen. Jesus Manangquil during his address.
He also said that due to continuous fighting over the years areas in Mindanao such as Basilan, Sulu and Marawi cannot take off economically because investors want to see stable peace and order first.
Manangquil underscored the critical role of providing skills training to out-of-school youth especially in Bicol to prevent communist cadres and ideologues from recruiting them to join the NPA under the guise of providing employment and a better life for their families.
He said that the Bicol Regional Party Committee is now finding it difficult to find brilliant and dedicated activists who can exploit local issues unlike in the 60s and 70s.
“The revival of the ROTC is also a big help to the Armed Forces because it can help build character and discipline among the students,” said Manangquil who was former commander of Joint Task Force Sulu
Manangquil challenged the surrenderees to tell their comrades who are still hiding in remote barangays that the Armed Forces in Bicol is willing to lay down their arms if the Bicol Regional Party Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm the New People’s Army will also lay down their arms to achieve lasting peace.
But he said that he has strict orders from the various operating units of the 9th Division to avoid encounters with NPA rebels if it can be avoided to prevent loss of lives.
He said regular NPA rebels hide or leave their firearms in their safe areas and go down to the communities and mingle with the civilians.
“But if they are seen carrying arms--I’m sorry, pasensyahan na lang tayo,” he warned
Some 100 NPA regulars have already surrendered to the authorities of the estimated less than 300 who are still armed fighting against the government.
He also warned government officials in Bicol who are still providing support to communist rebels to “better stop [doing so] if they don’t like to be named in public very soon and worst end up in jail.”
“We have a processing area where they [the surrendering rebels] can stay so they will be safe,” said Manangquil.
Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, concurrent chair of Regional Peace and Order Council(RPOC) in Bicol, said the government has strengthened its information and livelihood programs where there are a lot of opportunities awaiting for the NPA who would like to become a free citizen.
“This is a big welcome for development and it’s a start of peace evolving between the government and rebels,” Mayor Noel Rosal added.
Bicol International Airport
Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Almerol said that the AFP has deployed a battalion of Army soldiers to secure the ongoing construction of Bicol International Airport in Barangay Alobo in Daraga, Albay.
Daraga town mayor Carlwyn Baldo has earlier ordered the police to strengthen the security measures at the construction site of the long delayed completion of Bicol International Airport (BIA) in Barangay Alobo.
“We have to insure the security of BIA so it will be operational by 2020,” said Baldo during a meeting with members of Daraga Security Council at the town municipal hall conference room last week.
Participants during the Daraga Security Council meeting were Daraga police chief Supt. El Cid Roldan and Police Chief Inspector Neil C. Tavares of the Aviation Security Group (AVSEGROUP).
New People’s Army (NPA) rebels had already attacked the construction site for failure of the contractor to pay the demanded revolutionary tax on September 28 last year when they torched five heavy dump trucks, a mini dump truck, a double cab, a grader, a mixer, a crane and an owner-type jeep of Quezon City based EM Cuerpo Builders Inc. and twelve heavy equipment worth P76M owned by Sunwest Construction and Development Corp. on May 19, 2012.
President Rodrigo Duterte and Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade led the groundbreaking rites for the P708M construction of landing facilities of the long-delayed Bicol International Airport (BIA) project at Barangay Alobo, Daraga last Dec. 9, 2016 to fast-track its completion in 2018.