By Francis Wakefield
Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana enjoined members of Task Force Balik Loob (TFBL), as well as lead and partner agencies, to work closely with one another for a whole of government approach in providing benefits and services to former rebels.
Lorenzana made the call during a high-level inter-agency meeting at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City last Friday.
“We cannot afford to fail. We cannot let our President down, as much as we cannot fail our own people,” Lorenzana said.
“Ending the insurgency is actually not an end but rather a means towards achieving higher national objectives of social healing, reconciliation, unity among our people, and eventually, attaining lasting peace – a legacy which the President wants to bequeath to the nation and to our people,” he added.
The Task Force, chaired by Undersecretary Reynaldo B. Mapagu, has five lead agencies as its members; namely: the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), National Housing Authority (NHA), Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP), and the Office of the President.
DILG OIC, Undersecretary Eduardo M. Año, likewise expressed the need for lead and partner agencies including local government units down to the Provincial E-CLIP Committees to work together and faster, considering that the allocated funds for various programs have to be utilized before the year ends. He stated that the former rebels view the E-CLIP as a “light at the end of the tunnel,” serving as the best option for the nation to finally achieve peace.
“In order for us to really solve insurgency, it is still impossible to wipe them (insurgents) all out completely or eliminate them through force. Even if you look at all other insurgencies in the world, they did not end by fighting but rather, through negotiation or by a win-win solution like in Cambodia where everyone was given a chance to go back to the mainstream part of the government or society… and this is what we’re doing now,” Año said.
The meeting proceeded with updates from the TFBL Secretariat, represented by Major Aristotle F Antonio, while Colonel Joel Q. Mamon, Chief of the Operations Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations (OJ7), presented the accomplishments of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the implementation of the E-CLIP on behalf of Maj. Gen. Rene Glen O. Paje, who also attended the meeting.
Director Karl Caesar Rimando of the DILG-National Barangay Operations Office (DILG-NBOO), discussed the status of DILG-assisted benefits under the E-CLIP such as immediate, livelihood and integration assistance, firearms remuneration and establishment of halfway houses in provinces which will serve as transitional shelters where former rebels can undergo psychosocial interventions and stress debriefing while their E-CLIP benefits are processed.
DILG Assistant Secretary for Peace and Order Alex Macario presented the concept of the Comprehensive Social Benefits Program (CSBP) for members of the AFP and PNP for benchmarking of best practices that may be applicable to the E-CLIP.
Architect Susana V. Nonato of the National Housing Authority also updated the task force on the status of key housing projects for former rebels in various provinces nationwide as well as the utilization of housing assistance funds.
“As I speak, NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. is currently inspecting the housing units called Freedom Residences in Barangay Cuambogan, Tagum City, Davao del Norte intended for former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who surrendered to the government,” Nonato said.
Lastly, the TFBL STRATCOM Working Group presented updates on the Strategic Communication Plan and social media efforts. An open forum ensued after the presentations.
Director Ma. Karina Perida-Trayvilla of the Bureau of Workers with Special Concerns of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), reported that the DOLE has been consistent in providing employment assistance to former rebels even before the E-CLIP started through the Integrated Livelihood and Emergency Program (ILEP).
Deputy Director General Gaspar Gayona of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), likewise, reported that they have assisted several ex-rebels through technical and vocational trainings and provision of starter kits for them to start business right away.
Usec. Luz C. Ilagan Undersecretary for Legislative Liaison Affairs and Special Presidential Directives in the Mindanao Region of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), for her part, said that notwithstanding the challenges or even shortage in budget allocations, TFBL lead and partner agencies must stand ready at all times to fulfill President Duterte’s commitments to the rebels who have abandoned the insurgency.
She apprised the body that the DSWD has been ably assisting in the distribution of food packs and hygiene kits to FRs and their families as well as transportation services in facilitating their E-CLIP benefits.
Meanwhile, Usec. Bernardo Florece Jr., DILG Undersecretary for Peace and Order, suggested that the Task Force should boost its effort to promote the surrender of more rebels before the 2019 local elections during which the communist-terrorist group New People’s Army (NPA) may heighten its atrocities in order to extort “permit to campaign fees” from local politicians.
The meeting ended with a reaffirmation of solidarity and support from top officials representing TFBL lead and partner agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture (DA), of Health (DOH), of Trade and Industry (DTI), and of Budget and Management (DBM), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).