Guns-for-cash program at center of controversy

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Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz 3rd and 4th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya with New People’s Army members who surrendered in May this year. PHOTO BY AL JACINTO

Armed Forces chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz 3rd and 4th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya with New People’s Army members who surrendered in May this year. PHOTO BY AL JACINTO

ZAMBOANGA CITY: It comes with different names and is associated with billions of pesos in funds.

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However, not everyone is happy with the Guns-for-Peace Program (GFP) of the government that was formerly called the Balik-Baril Program (BBP).

For something that supposedly gives cash incentives to rebels to surrender weapons and start a new life, the program is mired in controversy.

Authorities insist that since it started in 1986, the program has lured thousands of rebel re–turnees who have since been awarded billions in pesos in cash and livelihood assistance.

Others are skeptical and call the program the “milking cow” of government and military officials, allowing them to present fake rebels and make money out of old—some say vintage—weapons.

The “baril” in BBP is short for “Bring a Rifle, Improve Your Livelihood.” The program was introduced by former President Corazon Aquino on December 24, 1986.

Under this program, formerly under the National Reconciliation and Development Program (NRDP), the government paid as much as P25,000 for every weapon surrendered and P18,000 in livelihood aid.

It was not until 1988 that the program went into full swing, providing loans left and right to rebel returnees.

Cory’s administration said the program was so successful that peace and order councils were ordered to hasten the process of helping rebels.

It added that the NRDP had greatly contributed to the substantial neutralization of the secessionist movement in southern Philippines, and improved the peace and order situation in rebel-infested areas.

From 1987 to 1991, the BBP reportedly attracted over 1,800 members of the New People’s Army, 837 from the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, and 12,978 Muslim rebels.

Another 1,845 subversive mass activists and 4,655 NPA sympathizers also availed of the program.

Rebel returnees received P53.8 million in financial assistance for livelihood, resettlement, and training programs.

Owing to the BBP’s success, the government expanded the program by offering a higher cash reward for guns and a P50,000 livelihood assistance fund.

In July 1992, newly elected President Fidel Ramos continued the BBP that now covered Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan and Sulu.

But many rebels later returned to the mountains shortly after receiving government aid.

Others who surrendered were not even rebels at all but were reportedly labelled as such for publicity purposes. Many of the weapons collected were defective Garand and homemade rifles. Worse, the military had incomplete records regarding those who surrendered.

The same thing reportedly happened under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Re–bels accused the government of pocketing billions of pesos in BBP funds and accused the military of parading “fake” rebel returnees with dilapidated weapons to collect money from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Under President Benig- no Aquino 3rd, the BBP continued but the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao were excluded from the program.

In 2000, the BBP was again the subject of controversy when Commission on Audit revealed that over P124 million in funds were unaccounted for.

The last straw came in 2011 when Major Christopher Pa–tindol, an AFP disbursing officer, went into hiding after being accused of pocketing P1.4 million in BBP funds. Judge Maria Filomena Singh of the Regional Trial Court Branch 85 issued a warrant for his arrest last year.

To fix things, the AFP scrapped the BBP and started the Guns-for-Peace Program (GPP). But it followed the same mechanics of BBP.

The reward was again raised to P200,000 for a machine gun; P60,000 for an M14 rifle; P50,000 for an M16 rifle; and P40,000 for an M203 grenade launcher aside from other livelihood and financial aid.

In Southern Philippines, the Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC) in Davao City said the GPP has also attracted many communist rebels in recent months.

The 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro City headed by Major Gen. Ricardo Visaya, which is also under the EMC, said a total of 97 rebel returnees have been presented to AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel Bautista and Lt. General Ricardo Rainier Cruz 3rd in May.

Of this number, 33, including two women, were regular NPA members, while 64 belonged to the NPA’s underground Barrio Revolutionary Committees or Militia ng Bayan. Seventy of them are Manobo tribesmen, including 12 minors.

The EMC said the rebel returnees received a total of P881,750 from the GPP for surrendering 93 assorted high-powered weapons.

So where are these rebel returnees now? Since the BPP was introduced, some served as military and police informants, some rejoined their comrades, while others were killed.

Those who assumed false identities for fear of being assassinated continue to live quietly with their families.

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