BUTUAN CITY [Updated]: At least 304 supporters and militiamen of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered in the Agusan del Norte town of Las Nieves Friday, dismantling the rebels’ key support in the area.
In a statement on Saturday, the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion (23IB) said the 19 surrenderers were members of the NPA’s Milisya ng Bayan (MB) while 285 were “mass supporters.”
“Barangay Ibuan in Las Nieves is a known mass base of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the NPA, for more than 50 years. During those years, the NPA leaders and regular members freely roamed around in the barangay where they conduct planning for their terroristic activities and the recruitment of civilians and the youth,” Lt. Col. Julius Cesar Paulo, 23IB commander, said in the statement.
Paulo said the mass surrender was a product of the “collaborative efforts and the series of immersion activities” conducted by the military, the local and provincial governments, and national line agencies.
“They were forced to embrace the ideology of the CPP-NPA and blindly followed the group due to fear and intimidation. For a long period of time, due to the presence of this terrorist group, hardships had plagued the residents in the area as government initiatives and interventions were hampered by the armed group,” he said.
A former NPA militiaman, only identified as Boy, said the NPA used intimidation tactics to force him and the rest of the village to work for the rebels.
“I am a farmer and was with the CPP-NPA movement for more than 20 years as a militia. I was forced to join them because of fear of what might happen to my family if I refuse. Our house is situated in the remote portion of Barangay Ibuan where the armed NPA rebels frequented,” Boy said in the dialect.
Boy said the rebels had promised the villagers of better lives.
“I was expecting for technologies and effective farming techniques as they promised to bring to the farmers. But nothing happened. For more than 20 years of serving them as a militia, all they taught to us farmers are hatred to the government and how to overthrow the system to uplift the lives of the farmers,” he said.
In an interview, Linda, another former NPA supporter, told the Philippine News Agency that she was elated for having been finally freed from the clutches of the rebels.
“We always lived in fear for years. In times when heavily-armed NPA are here in our barangay, mothers like me were in great fear. What if an armed encounter would take place in our barangay? What will happen to us, especially to our children?” she said in the dialect.
She also lamented the difficult life they have gone through with the presence of the NPA rebels.
“No progress came into our barangay as the NPA strictly disallow government interventions. My husband, a farmer, could not fully develop our farm because he needs to render services with the NPA as he also belonged to the underground organization of farmers here,” she said.
With the presence of government forces in her village, she hopes that government services would finally come into the area.
“I see good days ahead. The government assured us of full support with the delivery of services, programs and projects,” she said.
The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.