Army builds houses for rebel returnees

PILI, Camarines Sur --- Philippine Army (PA) soldiers in the Bicol region have started building houses dubbed as “halfway houses” for former communist rebels in the provinces of Camarines Norte and Sorsogon.

Captain John Paul Belleza, PA 9th Infantry Division spokesman, said that the Armed Forces in the Philippines (AFP) is constructing the halfway houses amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Camarines Norte, the construction of the houses is being done inside the Camp Busig-on, Tulay na Lupa, Labo town, which started in October 2019 and is already 90 percent finish.

The same houses will be built in Barangay Cogon, Juban town in Sorsogon province, he said.

The halfway houses serve as temporary shelters for former rebels (FRs) as they undergo the process of reintegration to the mainstream society, Belleza said.

“With the on-going construction of halfway houses in Camarines Norte and Sorsogon, the government is more than ready to accommodate the growing number of Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) members who are returning to the folds of the law,” he said.

Currently, the halfway house in Camp Bonny Serrano, Masbate province is already operational, which also serves as a venue for livelihood and skills training provided for former rebels, the military official said.

Raymart, (not his real name) a former rebel who temporarily resides in the said facility along with 17 other former rebels and their families, narrated how his life changed when he abandoned the communist movement.

According to him, the fear of being killed by soldiers while hiding in the mountains and the loneliness of being away from his family are enough reasons to make life inside the armed movement unbearable.

"Naisip ko na malayo na ako sa panganib dahil sa maganda at maayos ang pakikitungo sa amin ng mga sangay ng ating gobyerno. Napagtanto kong may mas mapayapa at magaan palang pamumuhay na naghihintay sa akin na ganito napapa-improve pa ang kaalaman dahil sa mga binigay na mga training tungkol sa hanapbuhay na pinagpawisan namin tulad ng sa TESDA," Raymart said.

Joint Task Force Bicolandia (JTFB) and 9th Infantry Division commander, MGen. Henry A. Robinson Jr, said that these developments are attributed to the sincerity of the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC), which aims to fast track the delivery of efficient services to the public.

“Unlike the NPAs, the government is not deceptive. This project is proof that we’re serious in our quest to lend hands to former members of the New People’s Army for them to live a new life. We know that some of them are hesitant to surrender because they fear for their lives. Halfway houses are also built to ensure their safety,” Robinson said.