By: Glazyl Y. Masculino
ESCALANTE City – Brigadier General Eric Vinoya, assistant division commander of Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (ID), is hoping that the 2,510 rebel returnees from the first, second, and third districts in Negros Occidental will cooperate in the government’s campaign against insurgency.
Vinoya, who also heads the anti-insurgency drive Joint Task Force Negros, graced the mass surrender of thousands of former members and mass supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) during north Negros peace summit and commemoration of the 34th Escalante massacre held at the city’s coliseum last Friday.
Of the total figure, 997 were from Escalante City, 560 from San Carlos City, 382 from Toboso town, 217 from Salvador Benedicto town, 171 from Calatrava town, 63 from Sagay City, 54 from Victorias City, 20 from Cadi City, 18 from Murcia town, 14 from E.B. Magalona town, 13 from Manapla town, and 1 from Silay City.
“Umaasa po ang inyong Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly ang joint task force Negros sa inyong lubos na pakikipagtulungan,” Vinoya said, as he assured them that the authorities will fulfill their commitment to them to achieve peace in the country.
The rebel returnees led by “Ka Joros” surrendered 41 firearms to the government and they also took the oath of allegiance, together with the other former mass supporters of the rebel group.
Surrendered firearms include an M14, a sniper rifle caliber .30, four garand rifle, four M16, four KG9, 13 .45 caliber pistol, an ingram, a homemade shot gun, seven .38 caliber revolver, three .357 magnum, and two .22 caliber black widow.
“This momentous occasion substantiates that the dream of building peaceful communities is now at hand. Let us rejoice for our vision is now becoming a reality,” Vinoya said, as he congratulated those who have decided to return to the folds of law.
“Thank you for making the right decision. Napakahalaga po ng ginawa ninyong desisyon,” he said.
The rebel returnees can now avail the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-Clip) to help them and their families start a normal and peaceful life.
The E-Clip is a livelihood seeding program of the government for former rebels, which aims to assist them and their families by providing them with opportunities.
The intensified campaign of the military, local government units (LGUs), and police against insurgency is in compliance with the order of President Rodrigo Duterte through an Executive Order No. 70 issued last December 4, 2018, institutionalizing the whole of nation approach, in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace. It also catalyzed the creation of a national task force to end the local communist armed conflict and enforces the creation of a national peace framework.
Vinoya said he is hoping that the activity will encourage more rebels to surrender for a long lasting peace in the island of Negros.
For his part, Mayor Melecio Yap said that the program is for the people of northern Negros to make them see the government’s commitment to provide them with various programs to end the local armed conflict in the province.
“We’re doing this during the massacre commemoration so that the people will remember those who have sacrificed their lives if the war still continues,” he added.
Yap said the government is opening its door and is really willing to help provide assistance to the people.
The Escalante massacre happened last September 20, 1985, claiming 20 lives and scored several injuries to about 30 persons. It happened a day before the commemoration of the 13th anniversary of martial law by the locals of the city.
Meanwhile, statements of apology were given by a former rebel, the LGU, police, and military to the families and victims of the massacre.
Ka Joros, a former member of the Special Partisan Unit (Sparu) of the NPA, who returned to the folds of law, said he was recruited to be part of the revolutionary movement since he was 14 years old.
He was tasked to deliver letters until he reached 18 years old and was trained to use firearms. He was then assigned as part of the disperse squad, wherein they were tasked to kill individuals being targeted by the group through the orders of their leaders.
“Wala kaming magawa dahil na train kami nila sa maling paniniwala. Humihingi ako ng paumanhin sa mga biktima at pamilya ng mga napatay ko. Hindi na namin maibabalik ang buhay na kinuha namin. Biktima din kami ng maling daan,” he said.
“Ngayon na nagbalik-loob ako sa gobyerno, gagawin ko ang lahat para mapunan ang pagkakamali ko. Tutulungan ko ang mga dati kong kasamahan na nasa maling landas hanggang ngayon. Kailangan ng matigil ang patayan dahil masama ito sa lipunan. Magtulungan tayo pra sa ikauunlad ng bansa,” he added.
Also, one of the wounded survivors in the massacre said she was recruited to join the revolutionary movement when she was 12 to 16 years old.
She was emotional when she narrated joining the protest last September 20, 1985. She said they were just asking the government at that time to provide them with the services for the people, when the massacre happened.
“Gapasalamat kami na naghiliusa kami ron katabang ang Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sa kalinong dinhi sa Escalante,” she said.
For the military and police, both security agencies apologized for the wrongdoings previously committed by their colleagues.
Police Colonel Romeo Baleros, Negros Occidental police director, said “pangungulila at dalamhati ay ramdam ng mga naulila at naiwan dahil sa pangyayaring iyon. Mahirap pong tanggalin ng tuluyan ang sakit, hindi po tayo perpekto, ang gobyerno natin ay hindi rin perpekto at nagkakamali din.”
He said that he won’t allow the same incident to happen again in the city and the province.
On behalf of the LGU, Executive Assistant IV Rolyn Cabus said the government has shortfall in delivering basic services to those in remote areas.
But, he said they are willing to improve it through the creation of Center for collaborative solutions, wherein they would be able to personally deliver assistance to the less-benefited people.
Meanwhile, one of the victims’ families made a statement of acceptance, and thanked the government for doing its part to establish peace in the city and to prevent the recurrence of the same incident.
The activity also included a dialogue and presentation of the Escalante massacre and giving tribute to those who were killed by the NPA. Musicians Joey Ayala and Cookie Chua, as well as celebrity Robin Padilla entertained the people during the event.
Also present in the activity were Mayors Laurence Marxlen dela Cruz, Richard Jaojoco, and Marilyn Era of Salvador Benedicto, Toboso, and Calatrava towns, respectively.
Former 1st district representative Julio Ledesma IV, Brigadier General Benedict Arevalo, commander of 303rd Infantry Brigade (IBde), Assistant Secretary Jonji Gonzales from the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV), and Lieutenant Colonel Emelito Thaddeus Logan, 79th IB commander were also present in the occasion.