A coordination meeting here Tuesday by various national government agencies signaled the start of the processing of aid and other forms of assistance for former "child warriors" of the communist New People's Army (NPA).
Police Regional Office (PRO) 13 (Caraga) director, Brig. Gen. Joselito T. Esquivel Jr., together with Brig. Gen. Maurito L. Licudine, commander of the Army's 402nd Infantry Brigade; Director Manuel M. OrduAa of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA); and Dr. Jayson Ryan R. Lam of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) 13, led the processing activity that would pave the way for the enrolment of the former rebels into the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E CLIP) of the government.
A total of 31 youths who were recruited by the NPA when they were still minors joined the activity and the processing.
Most of these youths were duped and recruited by the NPA when they were aged 15 to 17. Some were recruited as young as 13 years of age, Esquivel said.
He said the processing activity was in line with the implementation of Executive Order 70, which institutionalizes the "whole of nation" approach to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC).
Esquivel said most of the 31 youths decided to yield when they were already 18 years of age while the others were captured by government forces.
On the part of the Philippine National Police, Esquivel said they would also start their documentation for the filing of charges against the leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the mother organization of the NPA.
They (CPP NPA) violated the rights of these youths, especially when they were still minors, by recruiting and arming them to fight the government, he said.
Esquivel said the 31 youths would also undergo psycho social procedures to help them overcome the trauma they experienced while in the hands of the NPA.
Licudine welcomed the 31 youths and cited their courage in deciding to return to the fold of the law.
You were completely unaware of what kind of life you will endure inside the NPA movement when you were recruited. With the decision you made to come back to your families and communities, you already have the realization of how difficult life was while inside the communist movement and the lies they said just to convince you to join them, he said.
Licudine cited the government's readiness to intervene and help the youths cope with the "ordeals and strains" they had undergone during the time "when the NPA stole their adolescent lives."
He also asked them not to "squander but fully utilize the support and benefits" that they will receive from the government to renew their lives.
The top officials of the PNP and Army in the region also urged the young surrenderers to help the government reach out to youths who are still in the communist movement but are willing to go back to the fold of the law.
The CPP NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
Source: Philippines News Agency