BISLIG CITY, Surigao del Sur – For former CPP-NPA Terrorists (CNTs) in the CARAGA region, surrender seems to be the best way out of sure peril as combined efforts by the military, local government units, and national and local government agencies have effectively dismantled their former strongholds. Community Support Programs backed by intensified security operations against known armed terrorists in the provinces of Agusan and Surigao have forced over 300 former CNTs to abandon their hideouts in the mountains and immediately grab the hand of peace offered by the government.
In Agusan del Sur, six heavily armed CNTs- two commanding officers, one political guide, one medic, one team leader and one squad member, have finally found the courage to turn their backs against the organization which according to them have brought them nothing but misery and plunged them deeper into poverty. They were members of CNT’s Guerilla Front 3 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee, the terror unit which has been mainly responsible for all atrocities in the area such as arsons, murders and extortions. The CNTs peacefully surrendered to 75th Infantry (Marauder) Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Philippine Army last March 3, 2019. They brought with them assorted firearms, ammunition and explosives including one AK47 rifle, one M16A1 rifle, two Cal. 45 pistol, two Cal. 38 pistol, two hand grenades, two improvised pipe bombs, five blasting caps, five meters detonating cord, four magazines of AK47 with 97 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, five short steel magazines of M16A1 with 126 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition and two bandoliers.
“We just want to go back to our families and live a normal and peaceful life. Life has not been easy for us in the mountains but it was more difficult for the families that we have left behind. They suffer more than we do because we cannot provide for them”, one of the former commanding officers said. “The firearms and weapons that we brought down with us has become our tool for aggression and oppression against our very own neighbors and we just do not want to be part of the senseless violence anymore”, he added.
For former CNT member Tol (not his real name), the decision to surrender to the government came easily after he was told that many of his former comrades who have left the group earlier are now leaving peacefully with their families in the lowlands. “We were indoctrinated to harbour hatred against the government but today I felt we were all misled all the while. Today’s occasion tells a different story. There is hope for us who once turned our back against our country”, he said.
Tol and his group are among the latest batch of former terrorists who claimed they can no longer endure hunger and exhaustion as relentless security operations conducted by combined government forces have displaced them from their bases. Food has become scarce and they had to go on days without any decent meal. Money has also become a problem because business and land owners are now refusing their demands. Leadership squabbles among their commanders have become common over allocation of resources and financial support. “If we do not surrender now, either we die in battle, perish in hunger or succumb to illness. Laying down our firearms is the only choice we have”, another commanding officer said.
The windfall of surrender in CARAGA region is projected to have deep impact on other CNT organizations operating in Mindanao. “Demoralization among CNT members is at an all-time high due to the influx of surrenderees. The CPP-NPA has no one to blame but itself. People have already gotten weary of senseless violence”, BGEN Andres Centino, Commander of 401st Bde, said. Records of the 4th Infantry Division show that since January of this year, a total of 352 CNT terrorists have already returned to the government side, and are now back with their respective families. Earlier this week, nine former CNTs with nine assorted firearms also surrendered to the 26th Infantry Battalion.
For Brig. Gen. Franco Nemesio M. Gacal, Commander of 4th Infantry Division, the latest surrender is proof that we can gradually achieve peace without resorting to violence and bloodshed. “Their surrender is another milestone in our quest for a just and long-lasting peace. Let us all wage a peaceful war together- one that values lives above anything else. We can rise amidst chaos and conflict without killing each other”, he said. He also assured all CNTs who are still waging a futile war that they will be treated with dignity and care should they choose to go back to the folds of the law.
Meanwhile, BGEN Gacal also lauded the commanders and members of the 75th Infantry Battalion and 401st Infantry Brigade for their remarkable achievements. He extolled them to continue giving their best effort as they work as agents of peace and development particularly in poor and marginalized communities. “Your sacrifices mean a lot to the people we serve. But there is still much work to be done”, he added. He also encouraged other government units and agencies to collaborate and work hand-in-hand, and listen to the plight of their distressed constituents.