WELCOMING EX-REBELS. President Rodrigo Duterte greets former rebels before distributing their benefits during a ceremony at the San Isidro Civic Center in San Isidro, Leyte on Thursday (Jan. 23, 2020). The President renewed his call to rebels in Leyte province to lay down their arms and avail of land distribution and livelihood assistance. (Presidential photo by Karl Norman Alonzo)

SAN ISIDRO, Leyte — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday renewed his call to rebels in Leyte province to lay down their arms and avail of land distribution and livelihood assistance.

In a speech during the distribution of benefits to 262 former rebels at the San Isidro Civic Center here, Duterte said the country could have prospered a long time ago had it not been for the armed struggle of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“We can’t solve the problem in the Philippines by revolution. It has to be evolution,” he said.

So far, under the Duterte administration, some 140,000 hectares of land have been distributed to farmers nationwide.

According to Leyte local officials, 2,000 hectares could be distributed to farmer-beneficiaries.

“The 2,200 hectares — tell your crazy comrades to get down here because they won’t be a part of the distribution if they aren’t here,” the President told the former rebels who were given support by the government. “I will give all the lands to the Filipino.”

He noted that he wanted those parcels of land to be released to beneficiaries in three months.

Duterte asked the Department of Agriculture to assist farmers in analyzing the soil to determine the crops suitable to their locations.

During the event, eight representatives of 262 former rebels received the multi-million financial aid from the President. The former rebels were also given remuneration for their firearms.

Duterte handed over some PHP11.9 million in cash and livelihood assistance to rebel returnees during the mass awarding of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) benefits.

This is on top of the additional PHP5,000 cash assistance and mobile phones for each former rebel from the Office of the President.

In the ceremonial distribution of benefits, Duterte also awarded each returnee the certificate of eligibility for the lot in the soon-to-rise Peace and Prosperity Village in Sitio Limite, Daja Daku village in this town.

Of the 262 who surrendered, 33 of them were New People’s Army (NPA) fighters and 229 were members of the Militia ng Bayan (MB).

The MB consists of individuals who have been indoctrinated by the communist terrorist group and may or may not be directly involved in violent armed struggle. When organized, they can provide mass support to the “revolutionary movement” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), NPA, and National Democratic Front (NDF).

In his speech, delivered in the vernacular, the President told the former rebels that the country could have moved forward a long time ago if only the NPA worked for the nation’s progress.

“What you want is change, but you want to achieve that through armed struggle. So, who are the ones preventing the Philippines from progressing? Just because you are carrying a gun doesn’t mean the government should just cower down,” he said, adding that not all they are asking from the government would bring peace to the community.

He asked the rebels to stop fighting and pity their children who will grow up knowing only the anger they have for the government.

“In the Philippines, what’s important is for your children to have an education. That is the only way for you to get out of poverty,” Duterte told the beneficiaries.

The President thanked Leyte’s provincial government, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (ELCAC), and the agencies working with E-CLIP for their contribution to bring peace and prosperity to the communities.

Meanwhile, Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominic Petilla received a PHP5-million check for the construction of a half-way house.

Petilla reminded the rebel returnees that the goal is to build a better nation, asking them to unite and be one with the government.

“The people are the greatest resource of this country, so we must build people, a God-loving people, people-loving people, and nation-loving people,” he said. (PNA)