With high hopes of getting free education, 22-year-old Alice (not her real name), a Manobo tribe member in North Cotabato, joined the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI) and even offered her services as a secondary school teacher.
She recalled being recruited by members of the communist rebels March this year. She said the rebel leaders enticed them with a promise of good education and good life.
However, as she stays longer in the organization, she realized that she and the other recruits have been deceived.
As a teacher, she said the topics they are being asked to teach came from political instructors of the communist armed group New People’s Army (NPA) which she said are against the values she stands for as they are being asked to teach how to fight the government and practice deceit.
“Para sa akin masakit talaga, kasi Filipino lang versus Filipino ang nag-aawayan, hindi po tama. Nung naisip ko po na hindi talaga siya tama, bumalik na po ako sa gobyerno (It’s really hurtful for me because it’s Filipino versus Filipino. It’s not right. When I realized that it’s not really right, I decided to return to the fold of government),” she said.
Alice also narrated the hardships she went through while part of the said organization.
“Mahirap po talaga. Minsan mayroong pagkain, minsan wala. Tapos akyat nang akyat, lakad nang lakad sa bundok. Gabi lang po kami may pahinga (Life was really hard. Sometimes we do not have food. We climb mountains all day. We get to rest only at night),” she said, describing their treks somewhere in Davao where they were brought by the group.
But aside from the physical ordeal they went through, what was more striking were the sexual abuses their leaders committed against them. Alice, along with her sister and two cousins, all minors, were allegedly molested and raped by their commander and squad leader.
Seeing the realities in the organization she entered, Alice wanted her way out. However, being guarded by NPA members, she had no chance to escape.
“Kapag magtagal ako dun (MISFI), wala naman po akong magagawa dun at wala rin akong kinabukasan. Hindi ko rin matulungan ang mga relatives ko (If I stay longer in the MISFI, I have no future there. I can’t help my relatives),” she said.
After her six-month ordeal, Alice managed to escape from the organization in September. But Alice’s story will not end on this particular incident.
Alice was one of the indigenous peoples (IPs) presented by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Thursday, to narrate the realities that happened to rebel recruits like her.
Realizing that her life is in danger because of her escape, Alice sought government help.
“Yung pagbalik ko po sa gobyerno, maganda po tinutulungan po ako ng mga sundalo. Kahit saan ako pupunta sasamahan nila ako (Now that I’ve returned to the government fold, soldiers help me. They even accompany me wherever I go),” she said.
She also denied accusations made by the communist groups that military personnel commit abuses against members of IP groups.
“Hindi po totoo yung sinasabi nila na yung mga sundalo ang nangre-rape ng mga sibilyan. Sila po talaga yung gumagawa ng pangre-rape at pang-aabuso sa ibang tao. Sinisira po nila ang aming karapatan bilang isang babae. Sa totoo lang, mas mababait pa nga yung mga sundalo kumpara sa kanila (The accusations by the CPP-NPA that the soldiers rape civilians are not true. They are the ones who commit rapes and abuses. They destroy our rights as women. The truth is that soldiers are nicer than them),” she said.
Now a partner of government, Alice receives financial aid from the government which she uses to help her family.
She also called on her former colleagues and communist leaders to return to the government fold.
“Maganda ang proyekto na binibigay ng gobyerno sa atin. Huwag natin sayangin ang panahon (This is a good project being given to us by the government. Let us now waste the time to change and be productive),” she said, appealing to the government to help other victims like her. (ER/PNA)