Former Rebels in “Happy Home” Now Called “New Peace Advocates”

701st Brigade Commander Col. Reuben Basiao congratulates a former rebel during the Alternative Learning System culmination rites at the Happy Home facility.

City of Mati, Davao Oriental — Being a new beehive of Communist rebels wishing to embrace the fold of law, the sprawling facility called a “Happy Home” situated right across the biggest military camp in this province, is producing individuals or “graduates” who had once advocated for an armed struggle against the government but are now the government’s “strong partners” for its peace and development efforts.

 “This government program, the Happy Home, gives us, former rebels, another chance in life, a better life for ourselves, our children and our children’s children,” says a teary-eyed Karl Jay, a 17-year-old former NPA rebel who was one of the sixteen former Communist rebels who graduated from the government’s Alternative Learning System program. “They (the government) are giving us a hope of life where we and our families can live safely and happily to pursue our grandest dreams. They are giving us the hope of prosperity and abundance, the hope that someday we will be the captains of our fate and builders of our future.”

Of the sixteen former rebels who graduated from the ALS program, five are minors aged 16 and 17. “Let us choose hope over fear. Let us break free from the endless cycle of violence because we are all brothers and sisters. May they (comrades in arms) learn from our beautiful experience from this beautiful home called Happy Home,” says Yan-Yan, a 26-year-old female former rebel who is carrying her newly born three-month old baby girl. She belted out a prayer song “Power of Your Love” before an audience of local government and Army officials who witnessed their graduation ceremony which coincided with the Happy Home’s fourth founding anniversary. Inside the Communist movement, she says, “We don’t have a spiritual life. We are not allowed to believe in God. Here in the Happy Home, I and my fellow former rebels have become devout Christians. Today, we have just been baptized at the Mati Cathedral.” Of the sixteen graduates, five graduated from ALS’ Basic Literacy Program, five for elementary and five for secondary.

Since its inauguration in 2013, at least 189 people who are former members of the Communist New People’s Army has benefitted from the local government-run Happy Home program that entices the insurgents to leave the armed struggle in exchange for a huge financial assistance and a host of other benefits among them a free education and livelihood trainings.

PRICE FOR PEACE

Officials of both the provincial government and the local military here have said that the Happy Home program is a “worthy vision”, being the first and only of its kind in the whole country, and is “the price” the government is willing to pay for peace and human development in our time.

“You are now the New Peace Advocates. Today, you are now civilians, no longer the insurgents and you will be our strong partners in our peace and development efforts,” provincial administrator Art Benjie Bulaong told the former rebels.

Col. Reuben Basiao

Col. Reuben Basiao, chief of the Philippine Army’s 701st Brigade, says the former rebels who will soon leave the Happy Home after their graduation “are always welcome if they wish to visit the Happy Home and our camp. We are always ready to help you and your families in your gradual integration to the communities.” He said the vegetables and livestock that include pigs and poultry being tended by the former rebels “are all owned by the former rebels. All the proceeds will go to them.”

DILG Provincial DIrector Yvette Sunga

Yvette Tolentino-Sunga, provincial director of the Department of Interior and the Local Government says each of the former rebels will get P65,000 each in financial assistance for them to start a new life. “We have done our part, so I hope you will do yours. We have capacitated you during your stay in Happy Home. Now, you know how to use the computers. I hope you will become responsible citizens, helping our country to achieve sustainable peace,” says Sunga.

Sarah Gudes, the provincial head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development office told the former rebels: “The reason you are here is because you have learned from your colleagues the huge benefits of surrendering to the government. You being the sixth batch of beneficiaries are the most behaved batch. I hope you will spend the P65,000 in financial assistance being given to you by the government to worthwhile investments. Please don’t use the amount to buy pricey gadgets like cellphones.”

WORTH EMULATING

 “The halfway house called ‘Happy Home’ is among the shining examples of excellence in local governance that is worthy of emulation and recognition. Inaugurated on April 10, 2013 during the term of my predecessor, former governor now Congresswoman Corazon Malanyaon, Happy Home has been helping rebels in transition to civilian life. This is to firmly install the pillars of shared peace and prosperity in the province. It shows that change for the better and genuine development is possible, the only hindrance is the inability to think beyond one’s self,” says Davao Oriental Governor Nelson Dayanghirang.

He vowed that under his administration, the province will continue to provide the former rebels the wherewithal to join the mainstream with livelihood and employment, scholarships for their children, health services and others. “Indeed this program has truly changed and redefined the face of local governance and development. This is our commitment to the goal of peace as the people of Davao Oriental are earnestly longing for an end to violent conflict.”

Tree Planting Ceremony as part of the program during the ALS Culmination Rites

The governor and the military believe that a genuine people’s participation is crucial in institutionalizing peace and development efforts. They are making sure that all projects and activities are packaged and implemented with the participation of and input from the community members. Thus skills in managing peace-building initiatives are imparted at the grassroots level. The peace program aims to empower members of the community by transforming them to become peace advocates. They regularly conduct peace forum and dialogue in the barangay and municipal levels, peace consultations with key leaders including barangay officials and influential community leaders, and trainings on the culture of peace in schools and communities.

They believe that the most pressing concern is the immediate provision of basic services especially to war-torn places in the province to address the decades-old problem of insurgency. The provincial government and the military have come up with a more comprehensive program for pursuing peace. It is being done by fostering community dialogues, introducing community-owned projects, and creating communities of peace. They are now pursuing principled partnerships with people’s organizations, non-government organizations, churches from different religions, tribal leaders, local government units, government agencies and many other sectors who know how to reach out to the constituents and win their cooperation and trust. By Ferdinand Zuasola/ Photo by Eden Jhan Licayan

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