The Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) is using the Salugpungan Ta’ Tanu Igkanugon Learning Centers or the Salugpungan schools in Mindanao to breed new fighters — preying on young indigenous peoples (IP).
This was alleged by Datu Awing Apuga, who claimed to be a former child warrior and a member of the Ata Manobo tribe based in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, in an exclusive interview by Daily Tribune.
Apuga disclosed that he was about five years old when he was enrolled in a Salugpungan school within their community in Talaingod.
At first, Apuga said he thought there was nothing wrong in joining other members of his tribe attend classes at the school ran by outsiders or non-members of the Ata Manobo community.
Besides, it was a five-hour trek to the nearest Department of Education (DepEd)-recognized school from their community. And Apuga and his fellow Ata Manobos considered the “Salugpungan” a blessing.
But he recalled being gradually indoctrinated by the “outsiders” to the Maoist political belief of the CPP-NPA. Those capable, he said, were recruited as child warriors.
“We would jog, crawl around the compound as early as 6 a.m. These were the first activities we do at ‘Salugpungan’ before we enter the classroom,” Apuga told Daily Tribune.
Apuga, whose solid built he said indicates the hard physical training he had as a child, said they thought nothing wrong with the “Salugpungan” teaching.
“Like in any other schools, we were taught how to read and write,” confided Apuga, who is now is his early 30s.
“After learning the alphabet and basic mathematics, we were allowed to teach the younger ones,” he added.
But the young Ata Manobo datu said they were molded into “child warriors” later on.
A known leader of the NPA has taken over their “schooling.”
“They instilled in us how oppressive the government is. We were made to believe that the government is our enemy,” he said. “We were taught how to handle firearms, to fight the government troops.”
Soon, he found himself in actual combat — exchanging gunfire with government security forces in the Davao del Norte area alongside NPA rebels.
“I’ve been into so many encounters with the military before we realized that we were being manipulated,” he claimed.
Apuga decided to leave the communist movement after his father Datu Guibang Apuga broke away from the NPA.
For years, the elder Apuga, who is among the respected elders of the Ata Manobo tribe, fought with the NPA against the government.
After leaving the Maoist army, the elder Apuga ordered all “Salugpungan” centers within his community closed down. He is now calling for the closure of all centers in other areas.
For her part, Bae Magdalina Iligan of the Mamanwa Manobo tribe of Surigao del Sur also started young with the NPA.
“I served as medical personnel, attending to the sick and wounded NPA,” Iligan told the Daily Tribune.
Iligan was also a product of a “Salugpungan” center in her community before finding herself in the company of armed rebels.
She said she only decided to leave the NPA when her uncle, who refused to support the communists, was killed in front of her.
“For them (NPA members), there are no family members, no relatives. And they like to execute people in the presence of their loved ones,” Iligan said.
The stories of Awing and Iligan differ from the children of the tearful mothers who appeared before a Senate hearing last week looking for their missing children who are student activists. They claimed their children have been lured by the communists into going against the government.
Related to this, the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, chaired by Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, will resume today its inquiry into the missing student-activists.
De la Rosa said two former members of the CPP-NPA will shed light on the missing students, believed to have been recruited by Left-leaning university-based organizations.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, however, said being leftist is far from being a terrorist, this despite the CPP-NPA being tagged as a terror group by the government and by the other countries, led by the United States.
Guevarra also twitted Interior Secretary Eduardo Año for pushing to criminalize subversion anew.
“As long as activism remains in the realm of ideology, there is nothing to be alarmed about,” Guevarra said. “But once it flows into overt acts that threaten the national security or at least cause widespread fear among the people, government has to step in, and step in really hard.”
He said amending and strengthening the country’s anti-terror law will suffice to fight off threats.
Even membership to the CPP is no longer illegal after Republic Act 1700, the 1957 law that outlawed membership to a communist party, was repealed in 1992.
The CPP was founded in 1958, while the NPA was formed the following year. The communist party in existence then, when RA 1700 was enforced, was the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP, founded 1930), which has since been nearly defunct.
Malacañang, meanwhile, said it does not believe added police visibility in schools and universities would hamper the recruitment of students by cause oriented groups.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said police can only prevent or deter crime, but not recruitment by groups.
“I don’t think it will solve it,” referring to measures being proposed by the police and military, through De la Rosa.
The Senate also started hearing proposals to plug the loopholes in the Human Security Act, with an aim to strengthen laws against terrorism as proposed by Guevarra.
With Kristina Maralit and Hananeel Bordey