BUTUAN CITY — Top officials of the Duterte Administration flew to this northern Mindanao city on Tuesday to throw their support behind the CARAGA region’s aggressive efforts to address the decades-long communist insurgency and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This developed as Interior and Local Government Sec. Eduardo Año, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, Health Sec. Fransisco Duque III, and Presidential Peace Adviser and National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr. led here on Wednesday the awarding of assistance to 34 former rebels (FRs) from Agusan del Norte and Butuan City.

Transforming lives

The turnover of assistance packages to the FRs is among the interventions under the national government Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), which aims to help ex-members of Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army reintegrate into mainstream society and become peaceful and productive citizens.

Speaking to governors, mayors and representatives of line agencies and the security sector during the event, Año commended the Regional Task Force for Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (RTF-ELCAC) – CARAGA for implementing initiatives that aim to put an end to the armed rebellion in the region.

“We only have two more years to achieve our aim in ending insurgency in this country. We have to do whatever it is that we have to do and pool all possible resources to eradicate communism and terrorism and achieve lasting peace and security for our people,” he said, as he called on the local leaders to sustain their peacebuilding efforts.

Año also congratulated the former rebels for their decision to return to the folds of the law and start a new life.

He urged them to take advantage of the assistance being provided by the government to uplift their economic well-being, and provide a better life for them and their families.

“With our campaign against the CPP-NPA in all aspects, we will put an end to the insurgency. This is our last two minutes,” Año said.

The creation of RTF-ELCACs is anchored on the Executive Order No. 70 signed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in 2018 which mandates a “Whole-Of-Nation” Approach in resolving the communist rebellion.

Under EO 70, LGUs shall take the lead in the conduct of local peace dialogues as a way of peacefully engaging the rebels and convincing them to return to the folds of the law.

Power of convergence

Galvez, for his part, commended the RTF-ELCAC and Regional Inter-Agency Task Force (RIATF) CARAGA for its commitment and determination to carry out initiatives despite the peace, security and health challenges faced by the region.

“However, despite the many trials we faced, you were still able to implement many of your planned activities. This is because the ELCAC’s structure is anchored on the principle of coordination, harmonization and convergence,” he said.

Galvez emphasized that the greater challenge now facing the government is being able to simultaneously respond to the threats posed by the communist rebels and the COVID-19 pandemic, which line agencies and LGUs have been able to successfully do.

“We are thankful to our RTF-ELCAC and RIATF member-agencies and local government units for keeping focused on our twin objectives of putting an end to the armed rebellion, while addressing the health crisis,” Galvez said.

“Through your passion, commitment and determination, we have been able to achieve major gains in these efforts. Congratulations and we hope that you shall be able to sustain these measures in the coming year,” he said.

Best practices in COVID-19 response

Meanwhile, Duque commended RTF COVID-19 One Caraga Shield (RTF-COCS) and the DOH Caraga for their best practices, which has enabled the region to effectively contain the spread of the disease and manage existing cases.

“This means that all of the leaders of CARAGA have bonded together to synergize, to complement your individual resources so that as a whole, you have a more effective pandemic response,” he said.

“What you’ve done is you’ve come together and put your resources towards a common enemy, which is COVID-19. Addressing COVID-19 is not just the job of the national government. This is war that has to be won by each and every Filipino,” Duque added. The health chief emphasized the key role of local chief executives in the battle against COVID-19, as he urge them to strictly enforce minimum health standards and quarantine protocols in their localities.

“We need to work on this together. You as local chief executives, must remind your constituents about the importance of adherence to minimum health standards. We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” Duque said.

A second home for FRs

During the groundbreaking ceremonies of a halfway house to be built for former rebels in the city, Lorenzana highlighted the efforts being done by the government to transform the lives of the FRs.

The project is a joint initiative of the Butuan City Government, the Provincial Government of Agusan del Norte, the E-CLIP Committee and the 402nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army.

“Building a halfway house to shelter former rebels who have returned to the folds of the law will greatly help them as they transition from being violent citizens filled with hatred to peace-loving, law-abiding, productive citizens,” he said.

“But most importantly, this halfway house will serve as their temporary home away from home. Ang tahanan ay hindi lamang isang istraktura na may dingding, bubong, pintuan at mga silid kundi isang pugad na nagbibigay ng lilim, proteksyon at kalinga sa isang sibilyan,” he added.
Lorenzana explained that the halfway will serve as a place where former rebels can “undertake lessons, skills training, psycho-social services and avail of many benefits as part of the ECLIP to be implemented by various government agencies under Task Force Balik Loob.”

“May this halfway house foster social healing, reconciliation and national unity among us Filipinos. This will be our legacy towards achieving long-lasting peace and development,” he said. ###