HILONGOS, LEYTE, DEC. 25, - When 20-year-old "Luis" was captured by the military one evening four years ago in a remote neighborhood while hopping from house to house asking for food, he thought it was his end, but on the contrary it was a blessing in disguise that restored his freedom with dignity.
During the routine tactical interrogation, Luis (not his real name for security reason), he initially strongly denied being a member of the New People's Army (NPA) operating in the mountains of Northern Leyte.
The military did not force him though he name was in the order of battle. They stopped the interrogation..
Luis was left in his cell all alone to ponder. During that period he could not sleep.
Flashback of the toilsome days as a rebel traversing the snake-infested jungles of Leyte to avoid pursuing soldiers came rushing to his mind. He and his comrades moved during the night and in many occasions without food and water. It was an agonizing and gruelling experience he never expected to happen to him in the rebel movement. It was a far cry of what he was told.
For Luis, being the hunted as a rebel is scary as his life was at risk on 24/7. He spent sleepless nights thinking of his predicament. On impulse, he thought it was unfair and realized it was time to tell the truth that would set him free of his ordeal.
He realized the futility of fighting that denied him of precious quality time with his family through the years. He finally decided that it was time to tell the truth. When he did his ordeal was blotted out overnight. His conscience was clear.
Four years have passed since that fateful night that changed his life for the better. He was no longer a rebel on the run. The government granted Luis a livelihood which he continues to enjoy to date.
Talking before his fellow former rebels at the awarding of socio-economic assistance to unassisted rebel returnees in the region recently, he thanked the government for the support he got and expressed no regrets for following the peaceful path.
Luis was among the hundreds of ex-NPA guerillas who yielded to the government under the old rebel returnee program.
This was before the Social Integration Program (SIP) was implemented in 2008.
Together with 110 former rebels who operated in the the municipalities of Hindang, Hilongos, Jaro, La Paz, Dagami, Burauen, Matalom, Mahaplag and Maasin in Leyte Province, Luis was granted with P 20,000 worth of livelihood support to help his family start a business.
Each beneficiary likewise received a bag of grocery items courtesy of Leyte Governor Jericho Petilla.
Undersecretary Dimasangcay Pundato of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) attended at the simple turnover ceremony held at the Municipal Gym of Hilongos.
Also present in the affair were Col. Alan Martin, deputy brigade commander of 802nd Infantry Division; Ltc. Roberto Capulong, commanding officer of the 19th Infantry Battalion; Baybay ex-Mayor Jose Carlos Cari representing Gov. Petilla; Municipal Board Member Lourdes Vertibo, representing Hilongos Mayor Panfilo Go; Provincial Peace and Order chair Rolando Piamonte; and Provincial Board Member Florante Cayunada.
Prior to the awarding, Luis and his fellow rebel returnees went through a four-day skills training conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Technical Enhancement and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and Provincial Agriculturist Office.
They also underwent a series of seminars through the synergistic efforts of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), PhilHealth, Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to orient them of the various social services and pro-poor programs made available to them.
He joined the NPA because of injustice after his father was wrongly accused of a rebel sympathizer.
The communist rebels heard this and convinced him to join the NPA which he did.
"Itinuro ng NPA sa amin ang tungkol sa kahirapan ng mga mamamayan. Wala raw mangyayari kung di tayo kikilos at lalabanan ang gobyerno (The NPA taught us about the suffering of the masses. They said nothing will change if we do not take action and fight the government)," he said.
"Sabi rin nila na tutulungan daw nila ang ibang mga kasama namin na magkaroon ng sariling lupa (They also said that they will help some of our comrades to have their own land)," Luis added.
But after one year in the movement his life did not improve and in fact was more miserable.
His capture by elements of the 43rd Infantry Battalion four years ago, totally changed his life for the better as he was able to compare first the difficulties under the NPA and that of the government that gives all the opportunities to prosper through hard work and diligence.
From that time on, Luis never looked back.
Working with the municipal government
A few months after his capture, Luis was recommended by the military to work at the Hilongos Municipal Government as a utility man and later on as a street sweeper.
The pay has been modest, but he is grateful to the local government for accepting a former renegade like him to work under its wing.
"Naging mabuti at maayos ang pagtrato nila sa akin (They have treated me well)," Luis said, sharing how proud he is of his current job.
Now 25 years old, Luis finds himself better off and happier with his wife and their one-year-old daughter.
He is determined to pick up the pieces and help his family rise above impoverishment by building a small piggery business with the P 20,000 livelihood grant he received from the government.
"Pangarap ko na maging maayos ang aming pamilya. Gusto ko rin makapagtapos ng pag-aaral ang anak ko (It's my dream that my family live a decent life. I also want my daughter to finish her studies)," he said with a smile.