By Mario Casayuran
About 70 percent of Communist rebels fighting the government come from the indigenous peoples (IP) community.
The Communists collect as revolutionary tax some P1.2 billion per year in region 11 (the Davao provinces).
These were revealed Tuesday in an interview by The Manila Bulletin, and during a public hearing conducted by the Senate Cultural Communities Committee chaired by Senator Imee R. Marcos on the closure of 55 lumad (IPs) schools in the Davao region.
The so-called “Salugpungan Centers” were reportedly closed because they were already being run by elements of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (NPA).
Three former NPA fighters, one of whom was recruited when he was just five years old, testified before the Marcos committee with two of them admitting having participated in NPA-government firefights.
One of them, Bai Magdalena Iligan, testified that in one such skirmish, she saw a University of the Philippines (UP) student killed.
Iligan said she was recruited at the age of 13, underwent Communist teachings, including military tactics, and joined rallies in Manila.
She escaped from the NPA in 2016 after witnessing the killing by the NPA of her uncle.
Datu Joel Darusay, a former teacher, said many foreigners have gone to the mountains, and later went abroad for financial help.
Datu Awing Apuga, recruited at the age of 5, said those who had been recruited by the NPA used air guns for target shooting practice when they reach the age of seven, and when they reach the age of 10, shift to using M16 rifles.
He said he was first wounded in an encounter when he was 15 years old.
The government will lose if it does not address the needs and concerns of the lumads, warned National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Allen Capuyan, chairman of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), said the NPA collected the revolutionary taxes in Region 11, which has been experiencing exceptional economic growth.
Capuyan, a retired Army colonel, said he was not sure whether the estimated P1.2 billion revolutionary tax was collected in Region 11 alone.
He, however, said that the scale of government-NPA fighting has been reduced as a result of the government’s cooperation with the community.
Esperon, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, said the IPs’ ‘’Salugpugan,’’ a tribal social grouping, had to be stopped to stop the entry of the NPA into schools for IPs.
The Department of Education (DepEd) should be able to reach these schools that are located in the mountains, he pointed out.
Efforts to contain the decades-old Communist insurgency are being conducted by President Duterte who is chairman of this Cabinet-level campaign with Esperon as vice chairman.
The containment campaign includes the infusion of livelihood projects, infrastructure, basic services, TESDA training, education, and health, he said.
He said the government must enter the mass base of the Communists, and face off with those who give financial help to the rebels.
Esperon said nuns and lay leaders have gone to the United States and Europe to solicit funds for the IPs by showing pictures of IPs in not so appealing situation.
Another organization in Brussels had given 15 million Euros to this group of missionaries, he added.