“Panawagan nako sa mga kabataan na indi magpa recruit sa pihak, maningkamot kita sa aton kinabuhi kay may mga mosunod na henerasyon kita og kun unsa man ng gin-ingun nila na sistema na baluktot, dili lang ta mutuo dayun (I call on the youth not to allow themselves to be recruited into the other side, we do our own efforts for the next generation and whatever they say regarding the defective system, we don’t have to believe it now).”
This was the appeal of former child warrior of the New People’s Army (NPA), Ka Ann, 20, as she warned the youth to be cautious in joining moot organizations in and out of schools. Four years of being an NPA member was a dreadful journey, says Ka Ann who was recruited when she was 16 years old without the knowledge of her parents.
She told her parents she was working in Cebu, as instructed by the rebel recruiters.
Ka Ann was lured into armed movement by the NPA with the promise that they would help her in her studies and work to help uplift her family’s living condition. However, while in the hands of the terrorist group, Ka Ann recounted the horrible experiences she faced.
The NPA forced Ka Ann to join as one of the combatants, arming her with M16 long rifle in the hinterlands of Mabinay and Ayungon towns. “Naka experience kami na nakaencounter kami sang tropa sa Army, tapos gutom, nakita amon kauban namatay (We had an encounter with Army troops. We were starving, and I saw our young comrades die),” shares Ka Ann.
She said her last encounter was on Feb. 12, 2019 in Ayungon, where she was part of the group that set fire to the backhoe of the road contractor, including mining companies, as part of their extorting activities to raise funds. Leaving behind her comrades’ dead bodies during that encounter, on top of the hunger pangs and repeated sexual abuse incidents she experienced at the hands of her then NPA commander – all these prompted Ka Ann to surrender and turn her back on a dangerous life in the mountains.
She is now under the custody of the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. “Karun him-os na ang huna-huna sa akong mga ginikanan kay kahibalo man sila na safety man kaayu ko sa Philippine Army (My parents now have peace of mind knowing that I am safe with the Philippine Army).”
The rebel group tried to get her back by filing an abduction case against the Philippine Army, but she stood firm on her decision not to go back to the rebel group. Ka Ann is enjoying her freedom now after surrendering to the Philippine Army.
Through the Enhanced Community Livelihood Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Local Social Integration Program (LSIP) program, she received a financial assistance of P78,000 to start a new life. She said she shared the money with her mother who used it put up a sari-sari store as their livelihood.
Now, the biggest challenge for her is to encourage former comrades to surrender so they, too, can live a peaceful and safe life out of the hands of the rebel group.
Ka Ann warns the youth to not give in to the deception of the rebel recruiters who operate inside universities and colleges, employing illegal and legal tactics. “Ang balantayan dira kung makuha na nila ang imo interes og sige ka kuyog-kuyog nila murag hatagan ka nilag pagtuon, kana bantayan nimo og hatagan ka nilag pagtuon kay e-recruit na ka ana (Be careful as they will try to get your interest, and they keep giving you reading materials. That’s the point they will start to recruit you),” warns Ka Ann.
She also shared that she surrendered because she does not want to die a traitor to the people. Ka Ann hopes that her harrowing experience of being an NPA member would be a lesson to the youth, that whatever complaints they have against the government, it should be settled in a peaceful way as joining the rebel group would never bring about any good. (Jennifer Tilos , PIA7 Negros Oriental with reports from Faith Alejano, NORSU Intern)