To land a decent job – to be a cook or chef, in particular, is what Anthony (not his real name) wants to do after courageously withdrawing support to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) Terrorist Groups (CTGs).
With the help of his Uncle, Anthony surrendered to the government in October – after fighting with the CTGs against the government troops for a few times, hoping to come back to help his family and live in a more peaceful environment.
According to him, what the CTGs promised to be a “fun and free” life in the mountains turned out to be a terrifying experience he tries so hard to forget.
“Kabaliktaran ang naranasan kong pamumuhay doon sa kabundokan. Mahirap kasi hindi kami makakain at makatulog nang mapayapa, may takot at pangamba sa aming buhay,” he said.
Through constant communication with them, he was deceived by their captivating narrative on how happy it is to live in the mountains and fight for what they call as “The right of every poor Filipino is to live a better life.”
According to Anthony, during his first week with them, he was tasked to do basic chores like get woods in the forest, fetch water, cook, and guard their post.
However, after a week, they began to teach him how to use a gun.
“After one week, nag-iba na iyong pinagawa nila. Lalaban daw kami sa mga sundalo, doon na nila ako tinuruan kung paano gumamit ng baril,” he said.
Anthony fought with the government troops in January this year at the encounter in Nagbukel, Ilocos Sur; in February in Pilar, Abra; and last April in an encounter in Quirino, Ilocos Sur.
“Sobra ang nerbyos at takot ko noon, iniisip ko na lang na baka doon na ako mamamatay,” he said.
He added that during his first encounter, he wanted to go home but the CTGs insisted for him to stay for a while as it is delicate for him to go down from the mountains.
“Pinipigilan nila ako. Sinasabihan nila ako na doon na lang ako mamalagi para sa aking seguridad,” he said.
However, at that moment, he thought of his family and how much he wanted to go back home and repay them for all their sacrifices since his childhood up to his studies.
“Nagsisisi ako at hindi ko na talaga kinaya. Inisip ko ang aking pamilya at kung gaano ko sila gustong tulungan at hindi ko iyon magagawa kung andoon ako sa bundok,” he said.
Due to financial problems, Anthony, 23, stopped at Grade 10.
With the help of the government, he is hopeful that he can continue his studies or learn various skills training for him to land a decent job.
“Nais kong mag-aral ulit at kung papalarin, dahil hilig ko ang magluto, gusto kong maging cook o chef,” he said.
He wishes to undergo skills training by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) such as on driving, mechanic or culinary.
“Nais kong mabuhay nang normal at walang inaalala kagaya ng ibang kabataan,” he further added.
He advised the youth to never try to engage with the rebel groups as they only bring harm to them just as what he had experienced.
“Mahirap doon dahil mailalayo ka sa pamilya mo at hindi mo pa matutupad ang mga pangarap mo. Hindi mo na nga matutulungan ang pamilya mo, nagkakasala ka pa sa gobyerno,” he told his fellow youth.
“Mag-aral kayo nang mabuti, huwag na huwag niyong subukang makisali sa rebeldeng grupo upang hindi kayo malagay sa kapahamakan,” he further added.
Anthony will receive various assistance from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) through its Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program or E-CLIP and from the member-agencies of the Poverty Reduction, Livelihood and Employment Cluster (PRLEC) of the Provincial Task Force-Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) through a Serbisyo Caravan.
Through the strengthened efforts of the 81st Infantry (SPARTAN) Battalion, 702nd Infantry (DEFENDER) Brigade, 7th Infantry (KAUGNAY) Division Philippine Army, in cooperation with the provincial and local government units, Anthony is just one of the many NPA exploited individuals in Ilocos Sur who are given a second chance to live a better life on the side of the government.
“Malaki ang pasasalamat ko sa Philippine Army dahil kahit nagkasala ako sa gobyerno, tinanggap pa rin nila at nangako ng iba’t ibang tulong para sa pagkakataon upang ako’y mabuhay sa mas mapayapang komunidad,” he said. (Joyah Mae Quimoyog, PIA Ilocos Sur)