TACLOBAN CITY– A ‘peace center’ is soon to be established in the province of Northern Samar, considered the ‘last bastion’ of communist armed group in Eastern Visayas.
The building of the peace center, at a cost of P5, million will be funded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU).

The facility is another effort by the national government to encourage still active members of the New People’s Army (NPA) to surrender and give up their armed struggles.

The peace center will be a mechanism for ensuring the effective and efficient implementation of the provincial government of Northern Samar’s local peace engagement and transformation program, and the continuous monitoring of the program’s progress, Imelda Bonifacio, OPAPRU regional program manager, said.

“The reintegration program should be civilian-lead. It is the community that encourages the communist terrorist groups to surrender. The peace center becomes a sanctuary for former rebels that chose the path of peace and reconciliation,” she said.

Aside from Northern Samar, similar facility will be constructed in the provinces of Negros Occidental, Masbate, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Surigao del Sur, and South Cotabato as these areas continue to struggle problem on insurgency.
It was learned that a peace center will also be established in the provinces of Samar and Eastern Samar by next year.

“This will be the consolidator for all peace efforts in Northern Samar in terms of database, resources (logistics and human resources) and as a repository of all documentation of best practices which will serve as the basis for enhancement of peace programs,” Bonifacio said.
“Planning, implementation and evaluation, and monitoring will be the primary function of the peace center. That is why, it will be equipped with trained staff and facilities necessary in the cascading of programs and activities, including capacity building, for all stakeholders,” Bonifacio added.

The center will also include consolidated data of people’s organizations for former rebels who will act as an ‘augmentation force’ to counter activities of the active rebels, she added.
According to Bonifacio, Northern Samar under the leadership of Governor Edwin Ongchuan, was selected as one of the areas for the building of a peace center due to its readiness to accept the program.

Also, it has already an existing ‘Darangpan Center,’ a halfway house for former rebels in the province, and for coming up with a village for rehabilitated NPA members located in the town of Mondragon, where the peace center could be located.

The other proposed site of the peace center is Catarman, the provincial capitol.
Bonifacio said that the construction of the peace center is expected to start before the end of the year with her office only waiting for the needed memorandum of agreement to be signed by Gov. Ongchuan who is on travel.

Aside from the provincial government and OPAPRU, the Department of Interior and Local Government is also part of the agreement.

Meantime, 260 former rebels received financial assistance from Senator Ronaldo de la Rosa on Nov.10 in a ceremony at the headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division at Camp Lukban in Catbalogan City, Samar.

Of the 260 former rebels, 46 of them received P10,000 each as they also surrendered their firearms while the remaining 214 received P5,000 each.

The senator’s chief of staff, Macky de la Rosa, led in the distribution of the financial assistance to the rebels together with Major Gen. Camilo Ligayo, the commanding general of the 8th ID, and a representative of the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

One of the beneficiaries, ‘Dio,” who was a member of the armed group for six years, expressed his gratitude to the government for providing them the cash assistance.

“We are very happy with this assistance provided to us by the government, aside from the fact that we are now with our respective families. Rest assured that I will do my part to also encourage my former comrades still active in the organization to surrender and avail the benefits extended by the government to us,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Ligayo is hopeful that the financial aid received by the former rebels will be put to good use.

“The financial assistance distributed goes beyond the allocation of resources. It also symbolizes the unwavering support of the government to the former rebels who are now our partners in the pursuit of peace and development in the region. It represents a pledge to assist them (FRs) in their reintegration into mainstream society, to help them rebuild their lives, and to provide them with opportunities for a brighter and more secure future,” he said. (JOEY A. GABIETA)