Former NPA rebels in Leyte become high-value crops producers

From persuading villagers to fight against the government to leading farmers to produce high-value crops, a former rebel shared his transformation story on July 30, 2020.

HIGH-VALUE CROPS. Former rebels work on a farm in Daja Daku village in San Isidro, Leyte on Wednesday (July 29, 2020). The farm forms part of the Peace and Prosperity Village built by the government to help those who surrendered to become productive citizens. (PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)

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Marcelino Solatorio, 47, the leader of a 68-member farmer’s group in this town’s Daja Daku village said life has become more meaningful after he abandoned the ideology of the New People’s Army (NPA) two years ago.

“We are more productive now that we have been thinking of ways on how to cultivate high-value crops instead of waiting for the fulfillment of the NPA’s empty promises,” Solatorio told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Solatorio was an active member of the NPA’s Militia ng Bayan (MB) from 2002 to 2018, leading the barangay (village) organizing party in remote communities of San Isidro town.

He used to gather villagers to join anti-government gatherings in their community and help secure NPA forces.

Poverty encouraged him to support the communist terrorist group who promised him of land ownership and a better life. “What really happened was the opposite. They never provided any financial support to us. Instead, they were the ones asking for food from us,” he recalled.

The former rebel is one of the more than 1,000 NPA fighters and MB members in San Isidro and Calubian towns who surrendered to the Philippine Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade on April 13, 2019.

MB refers to individuals who have been indoctrinated and may or may not be directly involved in violent armed struggle, but when organized, can provide mass support to the revolutionary movement of the communist terrorist group.

Solatorio is one of the 262 former rebels who received the multi-million financial aid when President Rodrigo Duterte visited the town on January 24, 2020.

During the event, Duterte handed over some PHP11.9 million in cash and livelihood assistance to rebel returnees during the mass awarding of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) benefits.

This is on top of the additional PHP5,000 cash assistance and mobile phones for each former rebel from the Office of the President.

Solatorio and thousand others have been formed into 11 groups, trained on high-value crop productions, engage in land preparation, and started farming in May this year.

“We are very happy that in the past few months we have been contributing to the government’s food security program. Just this month, our association earned PHP16,000 from selling cucumbers,” he said.

For Nathaniel Catandejan, 52, gone are the days when NPA terrorized their village in Casiongan, Calubian town.

He forms part of the mass-base that serves as revolutionary enforcement in their community.

“We were forced to support the NPA out of fear. For decades until 2016, we fed them and provided them shelter every time they come to our village,” recalled Catandejan, now a member of a farmer’s group cultivating a bell pepper farm in this town’s Daja Daku village.

The old man is happy that his grandchildren will not be going through the same ordeal now that their communities are peaceful and people are engaged in high-value crops production within the 600-hectare land of the Leyte provincial government.

The view of the farm within the Peace and Prosperity Village in Daja Daku village, San Isidro, Leyte. (PNA photo by Sarwell Meniano)

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The farm in Daja Daku village forms part of the Peace and Prosperity Village with a budget requirement of PHP747.97 million.

The site is about 13 kilometers away from the center. The access road construction is still ongoing.

About 458 families from other areas will be relocated in the village provided with house and lot, farmland, livestock, poultry, livelihood, and skills training from Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and Department of Agriculture as part of mainstreaming and empowering them.

To rise in the new community are school buildings, community center, multi-purpose building, evacuation center, basketball court, manpower development center, chapel, children’s playground, daycare, and health center.

Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, who visited the village on Wednesday, said they envisioned the village as one of the country’s models of the whole-of-nation approach in ending the insurgency.

“This is just the start of the area’s development. We will be meeting the livelihood to solicit support from various national government agencies. Livelihood is our priority since it was the first concern they have raised after they surrendered to the government,” Petilla told reporters.

The livelihood component is part of the provincial government’s Leyte Economics program, province’s main economic strategy that aims to reduce the 23.6 percent poverty incidence in 2015 to 9 percent in the next two years.

The program adopts a community-based approach to capacitate the poor and marginalized villages through packages of goods and services.

Petilla said the provision of livelihood opportunities to poor families in far-flung communities is one of the local government’s strategies to counter the campaign of the NPA.

The NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (Sarwell Meniano, PNA)

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