DHSUD Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario administers the oath to former communist rebels who were elected as officers of a regional federation of former rebels in Region 8 — the first ever in the country, aimed at providing support system to rebel returnees, during a recent NTF-RTF 8-ELCAC forum. (DHSUD)

QUEZON CITY – The Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict 8 (RTF-ELCAC8) has recorded significant milestones in resolving insurgency and bringing development in conflict-affected areas in Eastern Visayas region.

The RTF8-ELCAC, led by Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario, reported the task force’s 2020 accomplishments to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, scoring a 49% reduction in communist-influenced barangays from the 2018’s 310.

The task force had dismantled four guerilla fronts out of the 11 operating within Eastern Visayas. Two more are expected to be dismantled this year.

“The existence of terrorist groups continues to hamper the development of the region. But with the concerted effort of this government, we are now seeing the fruits of adopting a whole of nation approach, in this case, on peace and order and community development,” Secretary Del Rosario said.

The provinces of Leyte, Southern Leyte and Biliran were declared insurgency-free at the end of 2019 due to the convergence initiatives of the task force.

Recognizing that the armed conflict in the region is not just a military concern but also social, economic and governance, interventions under the ELCAC involved multi-sectoral programs and projects embodied in its 12 Lines of Efforts (LOE) formulated at the national level.

The LOE includes situational awareness and knowledge management, strategic communication, local government engagement, localized peace engagement, legal cooperation, peace, law enforcement and development support, basic services, poverty reduction, livelihood and employment, infrastructure and resource management, enhanced comprehensive local integration amnesty program (E-CLIP), international engagement, and sectoral unification, capacity building and empowerment.

“Under the LOEs, we have been addressing not just insurgency but also other localized development challenges to ensure that we create sustainable communities for the returnees and their families. This will help them rebuild their lives as they reintegrate through the program,” added Secretary Del Rosario.

For the E-CLIP alone in 2020, RTF8-ELCAC distributed around P13.85 million worth of assistance to 296 former rebels, comprising 47 New People’s Army and Militia ng Bayan members. The assistance was meant to establish communal gardens, house farm breeders, poultry houses and slaughterhouses, as well as education facilities.

In addition, around P1.85 million cash aid was given to rebel returnees in Samar under the Peace towards Prosperity Initiative.

“An integral part of rebuilding lives is providing decent shelters to our returnees. Hence, we also constructed halfway houses to serve as temporary homes for the FRs while they are being prepared for reintegration,” Secretary Del Rosario said.

The ELCAC was institutionalized through Executive Order No. 70 in December 2018 as part of the whole of nation approach to resolve local armed conflict in the region. The RTF8-ELCAC was created by the Regional Development Council 8 and Regional Peace and Order Council Eastern Visayas.

“The region has come a long way since the full implementation of EO 70. However, it still has 152 conflict barangays at present. With the continued support of the government agencies, local government units and the private sector, the RTF is hopeful that these initiatives and accomplishments will be sustained to finally end local communist armed conflict in the region and the entire country,” Secretary Del Rosario ended. (30) – MGL