Nestled in the lush Sierra Madre mountains, a remote sitio stood as a silent witness to the longstanding battle against insurgency. The serene ambiance of Sitio Minanga, in the town of San Mariano, Isabela, blurs the deep-seated pains of past conflicts and violence. The beauty of the place refutes chaos, but the locals know it’s a mere façade. Mountains that stand tall become a refuge for some locals who choose a path less traveled.

One of the locals who chose this path is Alias Marvin. In 2014, fueled by his desperation to escape his personal struggles and mend his marital relations, he joined a movement that would change the course of his life. He was also convinced by the Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) that his life would be better, as they committed to providing financial support for his family. He started as a Militia ng Bayan, providing crucial information to the group. A year passed, and eventually, he was recruited as a regular, focusing on logistics support and designated as the supply officer.

Days and nights in the mountains were difficult and filled with uncertainties. There were days when he endured hunger while traversing vast distances, coupled with the psychological burden of being away from his family. They hid during the day and silently moved at night. Despite his circumstances, he felt secure knowing that the ideologies of the movement showed true governance.

After four years in the mountains, he started to doubt if his movement was true to its cause. He realized that the assurance of a good life was far from reality. In 2018, the national government intensified its campaign against insurgency. During that time, the armed group had difficulty mobilizing their resources. As a result, the support given to Marvin’s family was totally cut off.

Sometime in 2019, during their usual ground patrol, a piece of paper caught his attention. He secretly picked it up and hid it in his pocket; unknowingly, this would be his turning point. The piece of paper was a campaign material dropped by the roving helicopter as part of Task Force Balik Loob.

The government’s Executive Order No. 70, or the Whole-of-Nation Approach in attaining inclusive and sustainable peace, creating a National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and directing the Adoption of a National Peace Framework, promised hope for Marvin. Upon learning that the government offers tangible programs for Former Rebels (FRs), he came to his senses and finally decided to surrender.

In 2022, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office 02 (DSWD FO2), through its Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP), offered him a lifeline. He, and other 120 FRs in their municipality, received a Livelihood Settlement Grant (LSG) amounting to P20,000. He used the grant to purchase five (5) heads of piglets and raw materials for his watermelon farming. His hands, once calloused by the grip of his rifle, are now sowing seeds of resilience. He found himself in a place that was once a battleground but is now a nurturing home. Earlier that year, another opportunity opened; he was enlisted as a Private in the Philippine Army 95th Infantry “Salaknib” Battalion.

He is now reaping the fruits of the government’s reintegration program. He earns an average of P135,000 per cropping cycle on his watermelon farm and an average of P25,000 per disposal in his hog-raising project. As a Private, he has a regular monthly compensation of P37,000, along with other benefits. With this income, he can steadily provide support for his daughter and his siblings. He was also able to purchase a motorcycle and acquire a parcel of land.

More than these gains, he is grateful for the chance to rebuild his broken relationships with his family and community. The stigma that once tainted his identity has gradually turned into a sense of belongingness and acceptance. Looking back, he has no regrets about turning back from a life of being on the run. He realized that choosing what is right has given him the chance to embrace peace and healing. The road to redemption led him to a new battle that is worth the cause. ### Written by: Melisen A. Taquiqui/ SLP Social Marketing Officer