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Former rebels turned peacebuilders under Executive Order No. 70

Once a communist armed-conflict region, where chaos resonates, the place is  now filled with giggling children and farmers tending to their fields.

Two former rebels in Eastern Visayas have emerged as beacons of hope as they strive to heal wounds, restore trust, and build a more peaceful future under the banner of Executive Order No. 70.

The rebel days

Margie, a charismatic leader, and Serapeon, a counter-intelligence and combat fighter for their cause, became symbols of resistance and hope for their fellow insurgents, inspiring them to carry on their fight for what they believed was a just cause.

FRIENDS RESCUED: Margie Dela Cruz (left) and Serapeon Jongco (right) courageously shared their journey from being former rebels to peacebuilders. (PIA-8

The communist terrorist groups’ ceaseless fight was driven by various grievances and ideals against the government through armed struggle and political means. They used these tactics to persuade the vulnerable sectors to join the insurgency movement operating in the country's white and red areas.

In white areas, the government maintains a stronger presence, and insurgents have less influence, making it challenging for them to operate openly in urban areas. Some members include students, professionals, and other civilians.

In red areas, the insurgents have a significant presence and exercise a degree of control. They often collect revolutionary taxes, conduct recruitment, and operate training camps in the countryside. Some members include ruthless killers, trained combat fighters, and intelligence officers.

According to Undersecretary Ernesto Torres Jr., the executive director of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), because of the insurgency, more than 10,000 civilians and thousands of soldiers and police officers have been killed, including the 1,886 human rights violations by the CTGs from 2010-2022.

In addition to this data, the terorrist groups killed thousands of their own fighters from 1983 to 1990s during the purging.

These data showed that the insurgency movement has resulted in countless clashes, destruction, and death, leaving rooted scars on the land and the people.

The safety of Margie, Serapion's newfound lover, her family, and his own family, changed everything. They began questioning their cause when there was a constant fear for their safety and serenity. The emotional toll of never-ending violence is already unbearable to them.

 A ray of hope

The turning point in their lives came when they heard about the government's sincere commitment to peace through EO No. 70. This paved the way for others like Margie and Serapeon to choose peace over conflict, unity over division, and progress over stagnation.

EO No. 70 was introduced as part of the government's efforts to address the long-standing communist insurgency in the Philippines led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA). The Order seeks a holistic and coordinated approach to resolve the armed conflict and address its root causes.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Order on December 4, 2018. It is officially titled "Institutionalizing the Whole-of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and Directing the Adoption of a National Peace Framework."

From rebels to peacebuilders

Margie and Serapeon both surrendered to the government, taking the courageous step of embracing the provisions of EO No. 70, which offered them a chance to start anew.  Former rebels like them are now called Friends Rescued (FRs).

Under the guidance of government agencies like the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the other 12 operational clusters, they underwent conflict resolution, skills training, and community development.

UNITED FRONT: Government leaders shared their support to end insurgency in the region during the Post-SONA Forum and Serbisyo Caravan at the Tacloban City Convention Center on Sept. 5, 2023. In photos are: (l-r) Officer-in-Charge Leonilo D. Lopido of PIA Eastern Visayas; Regional Director Eustacio V. Bacabac of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency 8; Usec. Paulino M. Gutierrez of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security; Director-General Jose A. Torres Jr. of the Philippine Information Agency; Usec. Ernesto C. Torres Jr., executive director of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, National Secretariat; Usec. Oscar F. Valenzuela, undersecretary for Peace and Order, Department of the Interior and Local Government; and Major General Camilo Z. Ligayo, commander of the 8th Infantry Division and chairperson of the RTF8 ELCAC TWG. (PIA-8)

They remained steadfast in their determination to make amends for their past actions and contribute to the region’s healing as they joined the Eastern Visayas Peace Builders and Development Federation. They also became ambassadors of peace, working tirelessly to bridge the divide between their former comrades and government forces.

Based on the Global Terrorism Index Report, the country's ranking has decreased, from 9th in 2019 to 18th this year, due to the government's constant efforts in pursuit of unity, peace, and development.

A new dawn for Eastern Visayas

Margie and Serapeon, once sworn enemies, have become beacons of hope in a region that has long yearned for peace. Their journey proves that even the fiercest foes can become the staunchest of allies in pursuing a brighter tomorrow.

As the government continues to shape the landscape of peace and development in Eastern Visayas, a Post-State of the Nation Address (SONA) was organized last Sept. 5, 2023, held at Tacloban City Convention Center, highlighting the government’s effort to end the insurgency, including a Serbisyo Caravan, catering government services, and programs closer to the people.

ASSISTANCE TO FRIENDS RESCUED: Several government agencies, like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), turned over some food pack assistance to former rebels during the Post-SONA Forum at the Tacloban City Convention Center on Sept. 5. (PIA-8)

One of the highlights was the best practices of the region's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), which provides immediate assistance, provision for the reintegration process, livelihood assistance, remuneration for the surrendered firearm, and halfway houses.

Under the E-CLIP report this year, 458 FRs with their families now live in San Isidro, Leyte's peace and prosperity village. They received benefits like livelihood, medical, education, and housing.

Moreover, the Leyte Economics program is another project of the province of Leyte, which adopts a holistic and community-based approach to elevate the livelihood of the poor communities affected by insurgency.

According to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Undersecretary for Peace and Order Oscar F. Valenzuela, the FRs' livelihood status has improved with the help of skills training and interventions of all government agencies.

Capacity-building and social protection were also incorporated into the government’s integrated program, including the amnesty program for former rebels, just like Margie and Serapeon.

STAND AGAINST COMMUNIST INSURGENCY: Tacloban City Mayor and Regional Peace and Order Council Chairperson, Hon. Alfred S. Romualdez, expressed his stand against communist insurgency movements and propaganda by preventing them from enticing the vulnerable sector of their misguided cause during the PIA-led Post-SONA Forum last Sept. 5, 2023, at the Tacloban City Convention Center. (PIA-8)

Tacloban City Mayor and Regional Peace and Order Council Chairperson, Alfred S. Romualdez, declared during the Post-SONA Forum that before ushering in progress and development, achieving peace, stability, and order is needed.

Philippine Information Agency Director-General Jose A. Torres, Jr. expressed his thoughts on the promising effect of EO No. 70, as Eastern Visayas is now a beacon of hope, transforming difficult and insurgency-ridden paths to inspiring and development-driven communities.

Margie and Serapion's transformation reminds us that peace and solidarity are possible even in the most entrenched conflicts, as EO No. 70 continues to sow the seeds of peace in Eastern Visayas.  (MMP/AAC/PIA Leyte)

About the Author

Aaron Cotejar

Information Officer

Region 8

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