GIFT-GIVING. Tacloban-based businessman Joel Caminade (left), a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, reacts during the gift-giving activity in Deit village, Matuguinao, Samar on Saturday (Feb. 8, 2020). Various groups have been bringing cheers to children in the remote town of Matuguinao, Samar as a strategy to keep away the youth from the influence of the New People’s Army. (Photo courtesy of Ma. Ivy Lorraine Morillo)

TACLOBAN CITY — Various groups have been bringing cheers to children in the remote town of Matuguinao, Samar as a strategy to keep away the young generation from the influence of the New People’s Army (NPA).

In the past three months, these groups held two outreach activities in Matuguinao, a town known for armed encounters between the Philippine Army and the communist terrorist group NPA.

Ma. Ivy Lorraine Morillo, a former town councilor of Matuguinao, said she has been inviting businessmen, private individuals, and other donors to donate goods to children.

The activity is also in partnership with the municipal government, provincial government, Philippine Army’s 63rd Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Rizaldo Laurena, and members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community.

“Through gift-giving and feeding, we hope to inspire children to study hard and help their families and our town in the future instead of joining insurgents,” Morillo said on Monday.

On Saturday, their group gathered children from Mahanud, Angyap, Deit, Libertad, and Nagpapacao villages for the distribution of 300 pairs of flip flops, toys, bags, slippers, balls, and shirts.

Donors held the outreach activity in Deit village, some nine kilometers away from the town center.

The community can be reached through a single motorcycle ride and a 30-minute hike crossing three rivers.

Businessmen from Tacloban City also brought the feeding program dubbed as “Duterte Kitchen” to Matuguinao town.

“Duterte’s Kitchen”, named after President Rodrigo Duterte, was started by a group of volunteers in Cubao, Quezon City in October 2016.

The advocates behind it seek to address hunger among Filipinos, as expressed in their tagline “Wala nang matutulog na gutom (No one will go to sleep hungry)”.

Morillo said the initiative is in support of the local government’s anti-insurgency drive, a top priority of Mayor Aran Boller.

In earlier interviews, the mayor said development has been elusive for Matuguinao because of the NPA’s presence in the town’s villages and their constant threat to residents.

The town is a fifth-class municipality with a population of almost 8,000 people from 20 villages and was only connected to the national road in 2018 after the completion of 21-kilometer Gandara-Matuguinao Road funded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. (PNA)