MARABUT, Samar – It was still a sigh of relief for couple Virgil and Estreng (not their real names) when the New People’s Army (NPA) evicted them from their land in a remote community in Basey, Samar two years ago.
Suspected as military informants, the NPA ordered the couple to immediately leave their properties in upland Sitio (sub-village) Bagong Silang in Guirang village and settle in a place outside of Basey town.
“It was a mixed feeling since the punishment drove us away from danger, but we felt sad to leave our house built by a humanitarian organization for super typhoon victims and a hectare of land,” said Virgil, 70.
For 40 years, the couple considered themselves as “default NPA members” since they and 50 other families in the sitio frequently mingled with leaders and members of the communist terrorist group.
“My task was to help the NPA gather sacks of rice, crops, canned goods, and cash every time they visit our community once or twice a month. We shared food with them for fear of our safety,” Estreng, 60, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview on Thursday.
The mother of three recalled how she turned emotional when they sold their house for only PHP10,000 and their coconut farm for a mere PHP15,000.
“Several heavily armed men surrounded our house that night when they announced the punishment in 2018. We left our village early morning the following day and never got a chance to return there until last month to visit my son,” Estreng recalled.
Their former place is now peaceful after the Philippine Army’s 63rd Infantry Battalion set up a detachment near the community.
The village is now along a new highway with the ongoing construction of Basey-Maydolong Road, providing a shorter route between Samar and Eastern Samar provinces.
Their old place is about 25 kilometers away from the town center.
Until last year, the community can be accessed through a motorcycle ride to Wespal village and a three-hour hike upland.
The couple is now staying at a relative’s house in nearby Marabut town with their youngest daughter supporting their basic needs.
“I don’t want to return to our old place anymore. It was a nightmare living in fear and giving in to extortion activities of the NPA. Our life here is normal and peaceful,” Virgil said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has been assisting the couple receive financial assistance from the central government under the enhanced comprehensive local integration program (E-CLIP).
E-CLIP gives former rebels a holistic package of benefits such as livelihood, medical, education, housing, and even legal assistance.
Guirang village is one of the priority areas in the deployment retooled community support program (RCSP).
Other villages covered by RCSP are Inuntan, Burgos, Cancaiyas, Bulao, and Cogon.
Through RCSP, the Philippine Army and the PNP deploy teams to facilitate solutions for those identified problems through the convergence of efforts of different government agencies supervised by the local task force of ending local communist armed conflict (ELCAC).
The military initially identified 100 remote villages in the Eastern Visayas region as priorities for RCSP deployment due to threats of the NPA.
The NPA, which has been waging a five-decade armed struggle against the government, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines. (PNA)