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Embracing path to peace: A former rebel story

With his knees trembling, heart beating like a drum, and  palms sweating, young Awing Apuga returned to the folds of the law in June 2018 with his father,  Datu Guibang Apuga, the legendary Talaingod town Indigenous Peoples (IP) rebel leader who had fought against government authorities for more than 20 years.

He was gripped with intense fear.  The thought that he would be mauled and tortured by the military haunted him even at the time of his surrender as the deceptive voice of  the New People’s Army (NPA) echoed in his head. 

“Nagpabilin ang kahadlok nga kung mo surrender mo, makit-an mo sa sundalo, kulatahon mo, ug panitan mo, torture ug i-kulong mo. Wa na moy kagawasan  (The fear remained in me as we’re told that when you surrender, you’d be seen by the soldiers, you would be mauled, flayed, tortured, and incarcerated. You would no longer have freedom),” he said during the Davao del Norte-hosted National Peace Consciousness Month celebration held at SM City Davao on September 11.

“Maong  ayaw na lang mo’g surrender, kung mahimo magpakamatay na lang mo kaysa mo-surender. Bahala’g modagan ka ug pusilon kaysa mag-awta pa nga painitan ug i-torture (So, don’t ever surrender. If possible, just kill yourself instead of surrender.  Better run and be shot, than suffer from getting flayed and tortured),” he said, adding that “Mao na ang doktrina sa amoa (That is how we were indoctrinated).

Datu Guibang Apuga is welcomed by the military leaders of the 1003rd Infantry Brigada-Philippine Army during his return to the folds of the law in June 2018

He recalled his moment of surrender with his father as “marka bahala,” a moment when he convinced himself that what he had been led to believe might not be true. As it turned out, his beliefs were indeed incorrect. Contrary to what the NPA had instilled in them, they were welcomed with hugs by the military commanders and soldiers when they met at the agreed location in Sitio Nasilaban, Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

“Diha nga nakahilak ko, wa nako napugngan nakahilak ko sa atubang sa mga tao (Then I cried; I was not able to hold it, I cried in public),” he said as he recalled his mixed feelings of happiness and surprise behind his fear.

Amazed with the gov’t services

Aweng Apoga is even more amazed at the way that the national and local governments have assisted him, his family and his community upon his return to the folds of the law together with his father.

During the National Peace Consciousness Month celebration, Apuga talked about the numerous assistance that he and his community received from the government.

Aside from the Department of Education (DepEd) school buildings and deployed teachers, Sitio Nasilaban now has 100 housing units from the National Housing Authority (NHA). Moreover, various livelihood projects have been introduced in the area, and several other national line agencies have committed to bring their respective projects to them.

PFC (Datu) Awing Apuga shares his grim experiences while he was still with the CTG. This he revealed during the Davao del Norte-hosted Davao Region National Peace Consciousness month celebration.

On top of the numerous benefits and assistance, Apoga expressed profound gratitude for his unexpected enlistment in the military as a Private First Class (PFC). He never anticipated this opportunity, especially considering his past violations of government laws when he was a former rebel (now referred to as a rescued friend).

“Ug karon mas dako ang pagpasalamat nga ako karon usa na ka sundalo, dako kaayo nga tabang. Bisan ug daghan ko kalapasan kaniadto pero ang gibalos sa akoa mas gitabangan pa ko nila ug mas  gi-improve pa ang akong panginabuhi (I am even more grateful that I am now a soldier; this is a great help. Though I had then a number of transgressions, but they have reciprocated me with much help, and they even have improved my living),” he said referring to various government agencies.

The Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion of the 10th Infantry (Agila) Division of the Philippine Army has enlisted the young Apuga as a soldier deployed to the 1003rd Infantry Brigade covering Davao del Norte.

Datu Awing Apuga attends series of press conferences after his return to the folds of the law

In the rollout of the Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP), he was instrumental in explaining to IP communities, and making IPs understand “how they had become victims of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” he said.

He then called on those still working for the NPA to leave the armed struggle and seek the Philippine government assistance.

“Sa 54 ka tuig nga gapadayon ang ginahimo sa NPA, sa dugay nga panahon wala may nahatag sa atoa nga tabang, kay puro na lang pasalig (Of the 54 years continued operations of the NPA, in that long years, nothing is given us but all  promises),” he said.

“Makita lang nato ang kalinaw ug kalambuan kung kita magkahiusa (We can only see peace and development if we unite),” he stressed.

Working with the CTG

His life now is far different from his past as an NPA comrade, yet he can still vividly remember his association with the communist terrorist group.

Apoga revealed that he used to work among the organizers of Komiteng Rebolusyonaryo sa Munisipalidad (KRM) of the communist terrorist group (CTG) operating in the Municipality of Talaingod.

He mobilized youths to take part in the so-called “Taktikang Bakwit” which staged mass protest rallies against the government, and joined the “Lakbayan” that took him to the streets of Metro Manila to shout  against the government and the military.

Datu Awing Apuga

His involvement with the CTG extended beyond the streets, as he took on the role of an instructor at what he referred to as the "Pambansang Demokratikong Paaralan (PADEPA)" in "UCCP Haran" in Davao City. As a trusted follower, he eventually became a squad leader for the New People's Army, participating in armed encounters with military forces. 

However, he eventually dreamt of bringing peace to his community, particularly in Sitio Nasilaban, Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod. He was deeply affected by the destruction caused by his association with the CTG, particularly the harm inflicted on innocent children during armed conflicts.

“Dako kaayo nga mali nga ang mga kabataan naguba ang ilang kaugmaon napadulong sa mali nga ideolohiya nga tudlo sa NPA sa amoa (It was a big mistake that the future of our children got ruined because of the wrong ideology that the NPA had taught us),” he said during the event.  

It was the sight of death, the chaos in his community, and the deception that had driven him to dream and wish for peace. It was his pursuit for peace that pushed him to brave his way to struggle against the clutches of the CTG and made peace with the government.  (JMDA/ PIA Davao Del Norte/Photos from One DavNor News and online sources)

About the Author

Jeanevive Abangan

Deputy Regional Head

Region 11

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