Philippines: A disillusioned rebel yields, finds new life in peace

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DAVAO CITY, Dec. 26 - Juliet is a petite, 34- year old woman. Early in life, she had dreamt of being a nurse. But that dream will have to wait. Her family never had enough money to send her to school.

Living in a community where many members of the New People's Army (NPA) pass through, Juliet (her full identity is not disclosed to security reason) was soon recruited to join their cause. Believing that this would give her a better life, she became a member of the medical team, attending to her comrades who were sick or wounded in armed confrontation with military troops in the area- and in part, to fulfill her dream.

Within the NPA, she also met Cesar who later became her husband (and with whom she had four children). Together, they operated with the NPA for five years. Although life was very difficult for her with the constant walking, sleepless nights and lack of food, Juliet bore the hardship since Cesar did not want to surrender to authorities.

In 2008, disillusioned with the cause and wanting to have a new life for their growing children, both Juliet and Cesar surrendered to the authorities and were subsequently enrolled to the Social Integration Program (SIP) of Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Under the SIP package, Juliet was given immediate cash assistance of P 20,000.00 intended to cover for basic needs and P 50,000.00 worth of goods for her sari-sari store. She was one of the eleven former rebels from Davao del Norte who were provided these benefits by OPAPP apart from the skills training that was conducted by the different government agencies (i.e. Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development and Department of Trade and Industry) under the umbrella of the Regional Kalahi Convergence Group of Region XI (Davao Region).

In a recent interview with her, Juliet shared how her life has changed for the better. Juliet's sari-sari store earns an average weekly income of P 2,000. With the help of her children, she re-packs rice, sugar, dried fish and other goods to be sold. She especially enjoys these moments as this is also an opportunity for family bonding - sharing their experiences and aspirations.

To earn additional income, Juliet supplies goods for the workers of a nearby banana plantation, earning about P3,000 to P4,000.00 a week. With this, she is able to send her children to school and provide for their basic needs.

Speaking in Cebuano dialect, Juliet said: "Maayo na akong panginabuhi. Na lipay nako tungod kay maatiman ug tarong na nako ang akong mga anak ug dili nako mag huna-huna kung unsay kaonun sunod adlaw. Nalipay gyud ko na gi tabangan mi sa gobyerno. Nagasugod nami ug bag-ong kinabuhi" (My life is better now. I am happy because I can take care of my children very well and not worry about what to eat the next day. I am happy that the government helped us. We are starting a new life).

She and her husband, together with the children are confident of a bright future and thanked the government for its social integration program that has tremendously helped rebel returnees reintegrated into the mainstream of society as good citizens.