‘Friends rescued’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu Villanueva - The Philippine Star

As of the latest inventory of the government, there were about 1,100 former rebels who have received financial and other livelihood assistance since day one of the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM). This number covers only rebel returnees from the various communist insurgent groups under the umbrella of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

They received them through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration, or E-CLIP, a government livelihood and financial aid program that aims to reintegrate rebel returnees to become productive members of their communities.

Just last Monday, PBBM included in the government’s low-cost housing project the Kapatiran members who are composed of former rebels who returned to the folds of the law as part of the peace process being implemented by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU). The National Housing Authority (NHA) low-cost housing project in Naic, Cavite was originally intended for the homeless low-income families as beneficiaries who were awarded with Certificate of Eligibility of Lot Allocation (CELA) and Transfer of Certificate Title (TCT).

OPAPRU Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. disclosed the President’s decision to expand the coverage of beneficiaries to include rebel returnees bolsters the government’s localized peace engagements (LPEs), one of which ended in a formal peace agreement with the Kapatiran. The Kapatiran consists of the combined groups of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa Pilipinas-Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPMP-RPA-ABB).

“Under our local peace engagement program, we are gearing up for the implementation of a transformation program for former rebels whom we now call as ‘friends rescued’,” Galvez told us during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday. “Through this transformation program, we hope to provide them the necessary socio-economic interventions that would help them make the successful transition to mainstream society,” Galvez pointed out.

Also in support of the government’s peace process with various rebel groups, Galvez added, the OPAPRU has been aggressively implementing the peace initiatives under “social healing and peace-building” such as the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA). Through these programs, the OPAPRU help provide the much needed support from various government agencies in funding socio-economic and infrastructure projects “in conflict-affected and conflict-vulnerable” communities across the country.

Galvez credited much to the “whole-of-government” approach under the controversial yet seemingly effective National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). It was created by Executive Order (EO) No. 70 issued on Dec. 4, 2018 by former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Unfortunately, high-profile NTF-ELCAC officials in the past have become magnets of criticisms for their alleged “red-tagging” of left-leaning groups as alleged communist fronts as well as “red-tagging” certain activist individuals as communists. In defense of the NTF-ELCAC, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) argued no less than the acknowledged chieftain of the CPP-NPA-NDF chairman Jose Ma. Sison and their other key leaders were the first ones in “red-tagging” these left-leaning groups and individuals supportive of their communist cause.

At best, both sides are engaged in gaslighting each other.

Incidentally, the Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries 2022 picked “gas-lighting” as the “word of the year.” The word “gaslighting,” first used in this column on Sept. 5, means psychological manipulation intended to make a person question the validity of one’s own thoughts.

Galvez was only too thankful that the leaders of the 19th Congress were not swayed into these exchanges of “red-tagging” charges and kept intact the NTF-ELCAC budget for 2023. Thus, he welcomed the Congress-approved NTF-ELCAC budget of P6 billion for programmed and P3.6 billion for the un-programmed projects for 2023.

The OPAPRU chief believes such budgetary support to the government’s peace programs would further help bring about enduring peace and development all over the country, especially to the so-called GIDAS, or geographically-isolated and disadvantaged areas.

Galvez, however, clarified this does not mean the communist insurgency problem has not diminished. On the contrary, Galvez noted the AFP report that the actual number of communist insurgents and their armed strength have been greatly scaled down.

AFP Lieutenant General Bartolome Bacarro claimed the insurgents – branded as “communist terrorists” – have dwindled to about 2,112 members while their firearms reduced to around 1,800. From a total of 89 guerilla fronts in 2018, Bacarro disclosed, the AFP is now only going after 24 remaining groups. Of the remaining groups, the AFP estimated, 19 are already weakening and close to being dismantled. The military is now focusing on active guerrilla fronts in around 154 barangays in the country, he added.

Thus, the OPAPRU chief was lukewarm to proposals for Christmas ceasefire with the CPP-NPA-NDF. A retired AFP chief of staff and now full-time “peace czar,” Galvez renewed the government’s call for the rebel holdouts to give peace a chance.

Issued last September with a permanent appointment as OPAPRU Secretary, Galvez vows to win over more “friends rescued.” He was among the co-terminus Cabinet officials of ex-President Duterte asked to stay on until the end of this year. Turning 60 years old next week, Galvez proudly announced he is looking forward to gaining his senior citizen’s card and discount and other privileges of this aged elders of society.

Having been a soldier for most of his life, Galvez echoed his wish for all rebels to turn “from terrorism to tourism” once total peace reigns again all over the country. Meanwhile, Galvez savors the fact he will continue to serve the “friends rescued” on his continuing watch as OPAPRU chief.

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