AgNor leaders, 23IB meet former rebels, supporters

BUENAVISTA, Agusan del Norte – Top leaders in the province of Agusan del Norte together with the 23rd Infantry (Masigasig) Battalion (23IB) conducted a meeting and dialogue with the former rebels (FRs) and Underground Mass Organization (UGMO) members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Bokbokon, Barangay Lawan-lawan, Las Nieves town on Sunday, March 21, 2021.

The meeting was led by Agusan del Norte Second District Rep. Maria Angelica Amante-Matba, Board Member Erwin Dano, TESDA Director Rey Cueva, Datu Bawang Eddie S Ampiyawan, the Indigenous Mandatory Representative (IPMR) of Agusan del Norte and Lt. Col. Julius Cesar C. Paulo, the commander of 23IB.

The activity which was an acquaintance meeting between the government officials and the FRs and their supporters aimed to understand the latter’s situation through dialogue and conversation and to identify the pressing needs of their communities and the residents. Most of the FRs and their supporters belong to the Higaonon tribe in the area who were once victimized by the atrocities, recruitment, and other terroristic activities of the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG).

The FRs and supporters, led by Datu Hulas, voluntarily surrendered to Lt. Col. Paulo during the immersion activity in Las Nieves last March 9, 2021. After the surrender, they were presented to Gov. Dale B. Corvera and Las Nieves Mayor Avelina S. Rosales.

In her message during the meeting, Rep. Amante-Matba warmly welcomed the group of Datu Hulas back to the government. She also thanked Datu Hulas for finally realizing the evil intentions of the CTGs and decided to return to the government and their families.

“Dako akong pasalamat sa mga IP leaders nga maoy nag dumala kang Datu Hulas para mubalik na sa sabakan sa atong Gobyerno. Ang pagbalik ni Datu Hulas dako ni sya nga garbo sa ato kay na preserba ang iyang kinabuhi uban sa iyang pamilya,” Rep. Amante-Matba said.

She also criticized the NPA for their continued recruitment among the IPs and the youths in the area.

“It is so sad to note that until now, they are still recruiting and using the IP leaders to serve their group and fight against the government. I know that some of you were just forced to support the CNT activities because you are afraid of the threats thrown at you by the armed group,” Amante-Matba said.

She also challenged Datu Hulas and the rest of the IP residents in Sitio Bokbokon to end their support to the CTG.

“Your actions now will determine your future. If you still continue to support the CTGs, there’s a big chance that your future children and grandchildren’s lives will be affected. It is not only you who will suffer but also the next generation,” Amante-Matba said.

During the dialogue, Datu Hulas affirmed his commitment to reject the NPA in their area and support the government, including its programs and services.

“Dili ko katuo sa mga panghitabo sa akong kinabuhi sukad atong adlawa nga nibalik nako sa sabakan sa atong gobyerno. Sukad sukad sa akong kinabuhi karong ra gyod ko kadawat ug ingong ani kadako nga kantidad ug mga hinabang nga gikan sa atong gobyerno. Mao nga nagapasalamat ko sa buotan nga congresswoman Angel Matba,” Datu Hulas said.

He also called on the remaining members of the CTGs in the area to consider the offer of the government and surrender.

“Busa akong gi awhag ang akong mga ka ubanan nga nag pabilin pa sa armadong grupo nga balik na kamo sa atong gobyerno. Dili nato sayangon ang atong kinabuhi,” Datu Hulas said.

For his part, Datu Bawang recognized the continued support of the government to the Higaonon tribe in the province.

“Ang pag gugma sa gobyerno sa ato nga tribo matinud-anon. Magtinabangay kita ug padayon natong palig-onon ang atong tribu aron atong mabuntog ang mga dautang mga grupo. Dili kita mopadaog ug mo kompyansa sa mga NPAs kay grabe na sila ka traydor ug ka bakakon. Dili ta magpadaog sa ila kay kung mawala ta, looy ang mga mosusunod kanayon ug ang atong komonidad. Kay ang lig-on ang pagdumala sa mga IPs mabuntog nato ang kaaway ug pinaagi ani makab-ot nato ang tinuoray nga kalinaw ug kalambuan,” Datu Bawang said.

He also thanked the 23IB for protecting the Higaonon communities in Agusan del Norte and for the support they provided to ensure the delivery of government programs and services to the residents in the area.

“Dako akong paslamat sa kasundaluhan sa 23IB kay maayo ang ilang pagdumala ug mitabang sila sa pagpanalipod sa kinabuhi sa mga tribu nga adunay hulga gikan sa mga NPAs. Nakita usab nako nga nagkahiusa ug adunay silay nindot nga relasyon sa lokal nga panggagamhanan ug nahimo kining tulay aron nga mapaabot ang suporta ug sa LGU padulong kanato,” Datu Bawang said.

During the activity, Lt. Col. Paulo assured Datu Hulas and the other FRs of the continued government assistance through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP).

“The surrender of Datu Hulas manifests the weakening of the Communist NPA Terrorist (CNT) in Agusan del Norte. They can no longer move from place to place because of the relentless conduct of focused military operations to clear the areas that were commonly known as CNT lairs. These CNTs have nowhere to hide now, and they will surely suffer from great hunger due to less access to food supplies,” Paulo said.

He called on the remaining members of the NPA in the area to surrender and return to their respective families and communities.

“Our government is waiting for your return and is always willing to help you to change your lives in order for you and your family to have a brighter future,” Paulo said.

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