NPA missteps erode support among Masbate sympathizers

MASBATE CITY, Masbate (PIA) — The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has long sought to establish a new state led by Maoist-oriented working class, is losing crucial support from common people in this province increasingly disgusted by the actions of its armed members, including senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of a young football star.

The switch in mood presents more than just an image management headache for the guerillas of the New People’s Army, the CPP’s armed wing, who rely on their supporters to survive the government’s superior military strength. A diminution of that support weakens the rebels’ ability to sustain its armed struggle that has stunted development in the countryside and claimed thousands of lives since 1969.

The rebel shortcomings are draining enthusiasm from a significant number of insurgents and their core supporters.

In fact, some 350 CPP-NPA members have surrendered to the government. The weapons of some of them were also surrendered and destroyed.

“These are rebel returnees, and this is because of our program, the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program,” said Amy Badillo-Danao, the social welfare and development officer for Masbate.

Residents of Monreal town in Masbate march on March 27, 2021 to denounce the killing by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels of retired policemen in the town. The parade was held around town and culminated in a rally against the communist movement. (Photo from 2nd Infantry Battalion)

The Philippine Army (PA) has taken into its fold 20 former NPA guerrillas who have been deployed to fight the enemies of the state, according to the 96th Infantry Battalion in Masbate. The recruits have taken their oath as government soldiers.

Another 60 rebel returnees have also turned a new leaf as auxiliary force of PA.

As members of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), they are assigned to protect natural resources firms and secure and defend the communities from their former comrades in the underground movement.

Perhaps the most significant shift is among the local businesses, who used to pay the NPA to avoid being attacked.

According to intelligence reports, contractors of public infrastructure projects, shop operators and other businesses have ceased paying the NPA collectors, depriving the guerillas of the funds that fuel their activities.

Atrocities like executions have led many Masbateños to believe that the rebels are as wicked as the rogues in the police and military and civil service they aim to overthrow.

“Kabaliktaran ng ipinangako nila ang ngayon ay ginagawa nila, (They are doing the exact opposite of what they promised us),” lamented the former NPA informant in Masbate City, the provincial capital where an improvised explosive device planted by NPA went off and killed Far Eastern University football star Kieth Absalon and his cousin, labor leader Nolven Absalon in 2021.

Residents burn a replica of the flag of Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Dimasalang town in Masbate on March 26, 2023 during a rally that condemned the spate of attacks by NPA members. The clashes with the military, which erupted after communist guerillas were seen trying to recruit students in schools, traumatized learners, teachers, and non-teaching personnel. (PIA Masbate)

Rights groups including the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) denounced the communist forces, saying no ideology could justify the senseless deaths of the Absalon cousins.

In an effort to manage the public backlash, the CPP-NPA declared “deep remorse” for the “untimely and unnecessary” deaths of two noncombatants.

But that did not ease the disgust after the deadly explosions.

Disgusted villagers played tipsters to the military and police that led to the death of the NPA squad that carried out the bombing.

The neutralization of Absalons’ killers was completed with the death of the squad leader Eddie Rosero alias “Star ” during a firefight with soldiers from the 96th IB in San Jacinto town last August 19 that also killed three female rebels.

In recent years, local government units in Masbate passed resolutions denouncing the NPA presence in their localities.

The insurgents’ use of landmines that kill bystanders spurred insecurity among suspected NPA sympathizers.

A chain of atrocities that followed the deaths of the Absalons fueled disgust and frustrations on NPA sympathizers, scores of media interviews with Masbateños show.

Just two months after the landmine blast, the NPA guerillas abducted three male ambulant vendors in Palanas town. Villagers who saw the rebels executing the unarmed civilians said “those are repulsive acts.”

“The killers of Joey, Jestoni and Jose (all surnamed Lalaguna) were ruthless,” said Roland Lalaguna. “Their families cannot even afford a decent burial for them.”

In January 2021, two village officials of Barangay Cabas-an in Aroroy town were also abducted and executed by NPA rebels. Both slain victims were former rebels.

Just last March 20, the NPA started an armed hostilities with the military and the police involving the use of explosive weapons near several public elementary and secondary schools in Cawayan town.

At least 55,199 students, 2,815 teachers, and 140 schools were constrained to shift their classes from in-person to modular distance learning to ensure their safety from the crossfire and cross-explosions.

The NPA admitted to undertaking a defense maneuver in Cawayan and launching coordinated harassment operations in the adjacent towns of Placer and Dimasalang in commemoration of the NPA’s 54th anniversary on March 29.

Parents of students and the CHR condemned the NPA members’ use of improvised explosive devices near schools during the clashes with government troops.

Residents of Masbate City gather on March 24, 2023 to denounce the atrocities of New People’s Army rebels. (Photo from Masbate City Police Station)

The brutal acts were intended to discourage other rebels and supporters from defecting to the government side, but the NPA achieved merely the opposite.

The hemorrhage from the outlawed group did not stop with the surrender of the more than 350 armed members and their core supporters.

Last August 23, seven NPA members gave up more than a decade of insurgency and voluntarily surrendered to the 2nd Infantry Battalion.

Two weeks earlier, three NPA members also voluntarily surrendered to the police and military in Cataingan town.

Amy Badillo-Danao, social welfare and development officer for Masbate, said close to 200 former CPP-NPA members were now registered under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

They were housed in a center for helping former rebels to adjust to life in mainstream society. They will eventually move to houses that will be built by the government for former rebels.

The halfway house for communist rebels who have returned to the fold of the law in Masbate. (Photo from 2nd Infantry Battalion)

Aside from the housing, cash was given to the former rebels under the Sustainable Livelihood Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Those who turned in their firearms were given additional cash that they could use to start a small business that would improve their lives peacefully. (PIA Masbate)

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