TACLOBAN CITY – More than 2,000 members and staunch supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered in Leyte, Southern Leyte, and Biliran provinces in 2021, stalling the rebel group’s attempt to recruit new members in these provinces.
The majority of the surrenderers were members of the NPA’s front organizations, tasked to support their armed struggle in these three provinces.
The surrenderers were from Carigara, Ormoc City, Hilongos, Mahaplag, Abuyog, Leyte, Baybay City, and Tacloban City in Leyte; Sogod, Bontoc, and San Juan in Southern Leyte; and Culaba, Caibiran, Cabucgayan, Biliran, Naval, Almeria, and Kawayan in Biliran province.
Brig. Gen. Zosimo Oliveros, Philippine Army 802nd Infantry Brigade commander, lauded local government officials and former rebels for facilitating the surrender of NPA allies in these provinces.
"The return to the fold of the law of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA- National Democratic Front (NDF) party members, white area operatives, and mass members is a clear sign that the people have gone sick and tired of the lies and deception of the communist terrorist group,” Oliveros said in a phone interview on Friday.
As mass supporters, residents served as contacts and couriers where they provide and facilitate the procurement and delivery of supplies, food, and medicines.
The most notable mass surrender was held on November 26 when 186 NPA supporters in Carigara town formally cut their ties through a ceremony held at the town’s gymnasium.
The event was witnessed by members of the regional and local Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC).
Among the surrenderers was 24-year-old Jonnel Anos, the lone NPA fighter among those who yielded that day.
Traumatized by clashes with soldiers in the outskirts of Hilongos, Leyte, sleepless nights, and hunger, Anos decided to return to his family in December 2018.
"We were told that the fight is for the welfare of the poor, but I realized that it's all about their propaganda," Anos of Canlampay village here said during an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on November 26.
The NPA persuaded him to join as a combatant when he was 20 years old in 2017.
In Tacloban City, where NPA front organization members usually converge to hold anti-government demonstrations, 152 supporters formally turned away from the group in a ceremony on December 13.
They all belonged to groups affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a group linked to the CPP-NPA.
One of them was Napoleon Escalona, 54, who realized that he was deceived by the CPP-NPA for the past 10 years.
He was convinced to join the NPA-affiliated group when his 20-year-old son died at work due to an accident – sacks of cement buried him alive.
"We were made to believe that laborers like us are oppressed and undesirable. They took advantage of our vulnerable situation. Usually, the NPA mobilized us to conduct rallies, especially during the demolition of houses of poor families," Escalona, former chair of labor group Katrabaho, said when interviewed during the ceremony.
NPA combatants who yielded to authorities received financial assistance from the government through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP).
The amount ranged from PHP25,000 to PHP75,000, with additional compensation for every firearm that was turned over.
Those front members who cut ties with the NPA have been formed into integrated peace and development workers association. They have been prioritized for livelihood assistance and skills training from the government.
Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division, said the number of surrenderers among regular NPA members has been increasing since the formation of task force ELCAC, both at the national and local levels, three years ago.
"With the disaffiliation of their supporters, the NPA finds it hard to find new recruits if their members are killed, captured, or surrendered. The zero recruitment in several villages has weakened their organization in the region," de Leon said in a press briefing here on December 14.
The zero recruitment is a result of the "soft approach" where various government agencies ensure the delivery of basic services to vulnerable communities.
"People join the NPA not because they are poor but because of the propagation of hatred against the government by the communist terrorist group," he said. "If they see that services are available in their communities, the NPA will fail to stir hatred against the government."
The CPP-NPA, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the government, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
The Anti-Terrorism Council also formally designated the NDF as a terrorist organization on June 23, 2021, citing it as “an integral and separate part” of the CPP-NPA that was created in April 1973. (PNA)