San Fernando’s Salusad surrenders: “we’ll see if gov’t fulfills its promise”

MARAMAG, Bukidnon (Bukidnon News/16 November 2011) – Wearing a seven-color army uniform, Benjamin “Ka Nonong” Salusad an armed group commander who confessed to be a leader of a New People’s Army group, led 79 other suspected rebels who surrendered to the military and were presented to Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan and other government officials Tuesday.

Calingasan led the group’s oath renouncing the NPA, after Salusad formally surrendered in formal rites here with a promise of security and government livelihood support.

The governor confirmed to Bukidnon News that Salusad’s group will be among those who will take their oath of allegiance to the government before President Benigno Aquino III in a scheduled visit here late this month.

The leader of the San Fernando town-based armed group, who confessed of joining the rebels back in 1995 because of alleged military abuses in 1992 and 1995 that killed members of his family, said he surrendered because allegedly nothing has changed with their tribe in his 18 years with the rebels.

“Kami sa tribo padayon pa gihapon nga gidaug-daug,” (We have remained exploited in the tribe) he added in a press conference following the surrender program held at the 8th Infantry Battalion camp here. He alleged that the rebels did not do any better and allegedly used them only.

But he said in an interview it is also a test if the government offer of social integration will work.

He said his 26-year old son, Aldie, known as “Ka Botchoy, is waiting for the outcome of his surrender. The younger Salusad, who was reported to lead a 40-member group, had previously surrendered but returned allegedly because of the delay in the government’s assistance.

Boy Demit of radio station DXDB said the younger Salusad, who he interviewed on air, surrendered in March 2010 with two armalite rifles. Demit added that 403rd brigade spokesperson Capt. Eduardo Meclat confirmed the report and admitted the delay in the release of assistance to Salusad due to changes in the government’s SIP.

“We’ll see. Hopefully, they will fulfill their promise,” the older Salusad said.

The group, composed of 31 “full time” and 49 “part-time” combatants, surrendered a total of 25 firearms including seven M16, five AR18, and six carbine rifles. Ten members of the group are females, according to the army’s press release.

Salusad called on other rebels to surrender so that their children can go to school and people will find work.

Salusad appealed to the government to be sincere in its offer.

He said he might return to the mountains if the treatment is not good.

When asked what “good treatment” is, he said if the government will help them with their ancestral domain claim proposal, which they gave directly to President Aquino. They have also sought for livelihood support and protection.

They have asked for free education for their children, hospital, too.

Lt. Gen. Arthur Tabaquero, chief of the army’s Eastern Mindanao Command, welcomed the surrender as a triumph with the biggest number of returnees so far in one occasion. The military identified Salusad in a press release on Nov. 14 as the “CO (commanding officer) of the Sangay sa Platon Pampropaganda 3, Guerilla Front 6, of the NPA’s North Central Mindanao regional committee.

He vowed that the abuses that haunted Salusad in the past will no longer happen.

Tabaquero said to address the returnees’ security; the Armed Forces of the Philippines will take in Salusad’s group to the Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliary (SCAA).

But MGen. Victor A. Felix, chief of the 4th infantry division, in a pre-surrender program press conference, clarified that this doesn’t mean immunity from criminal charges for group members who may have cases and warrants of arrest.

Felix added that those implicated will have to go through the legal process. Those who can join the SCAA, he added, have to go through the selection procedure.

Calingasan, who presented that the provincial government was able to release about P2 million for livelihood assistance to close to 200 rebel returnees already, vowed to provide financial and livelihood assistance to the returnees.

“It’s small but immediate assistance to them, unlike the national (fund) which has to go through Manila’s bureaucracy,” he added.

The Bukidnon LGU uses funds from its local integration program. But Calingasan added that the provincial government has already endorsed the documents for livelihood assistance through the national government’s Social Integration Program.

“The national aid takes a longer process,” Calingasan added.

Salusad said his surrender, which actually happened a week before in San Fernando town, and made public with media coverage only today, is a move he made because the government offered their ”only hope” out from poverty, their tribal group’s ancestral domain claim all over San Fernando town.

Datu Sege Isidro Panduma, vice president of the San Fernando Federation of Matigsalug, Tigwahanon, and Manobo Tribal Councils, who was in the program said Salusad belongs to their group.

MindaNews sources identify Salusad’s group to be allegedly in control of a gold mining site in Dao, San Fernando town. He admitted to reporters that they were actually guarding the site upon request of the tribal elders and leaders.  He admitted, too, that some local politicians in San Fernando town are actually behind the gold mining operations.

Small-scale gold mining in the hinterland district in San Fernando has been fetching around a round a  million peso a day but since it is illegal, neither the barangay nor the municipal or provincial government, is earning from it, a  report from the Bukidnon Environment and Natural Resources Office (BENRO) said as presented in a public hearing at the provincial board in June 2011.

The Bukidnon Provincial Police Office identified Salusad’s group allegedly as a criminal gang operating in San Fernando and neighboring towns allegedly engaged in robbery and hold-up.

Salusad denied the accusation citing another group, he described as bandits is behind it and was only allegedly dropping his name for convenience.

The June 13 report said there are close to 1,000 miners panning for gold in the Salug River in an area, which can be reached after a two-kilometer hike from the last stop of a motorcycle ride.

The miners recover about a kilo gram of gold per day, which is sold on site at P1,400 per gram, the report quoted village councilor Fausto Bacleran as saying.

Panning is the oldest method of mining gold.  (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)


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