Philippines' Ex-Rebels Commit to Better Life

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CWNews.com - Evangeline Varona tearfully gives a vivid account of her husband's murder.

Custodio Varona was shot three times in the head as Evangeline sat beside him.

"My husband loved to help people," she said. "I don't understand why they killed him. Now my children don't have a father. What will happen to us?"

Custodio Varona was the third village chief assassinated in a three week span this year.

Who was behind this killing spree? The New People's Army, which is the armed group of the Communist party of the Philippines.

For 39 years the rebel group has waged a violent struggle against the Philippine government to establish a Communist state.

With the principles of Communist ideology, a lot have defected and are now determined to face the challenges of living as normal citizens in mainstream society.

Operation Blessing Philippines is partnering with the military to try and win back some of these rebels through peaceful means.

They are giving free skills training to all rebel returnees - those who lay down their weapons and pledge to rejoin society.

Major Medel Aguilar is the Civil Relations Group commander. He heads the campaign for peace and unity in the region.

"When this rebel went to the mountain, they learned one skill how to pull the trigger and kill a person," he said. "But now we want to train them how to use a hammer. With this carpentry tools they can build a house where the Filipino people can live. It diverts the attention of this people from violent means to a peaceful means, to a productive means."

Former rebel Jetro Amoray is very happy to be part of the program.

Because he has only a fifth grade education, he says learning a new skill will definitely help him sustain his family.

He regrets having joined the New People's Army, but says he was lured by the organization's promise of a better life.

"I thought joining the Communist party was the answer to feed my wife and eight children but I made a mistake," he explained. "Our life became more miserable. We live in fear and up to now I am haunted by the crimes I committed against the soldiers in those encounters. I hope they can forgive me. I did not mean it."

After ten years of hiding and fighting in the mountains, Bella Rulian finally decided to surrender to the government.

"I am very tired. I realized armed struggle is not the solution to the political and economic crisis in the country," he said. "And I don't want my children to follow my footsteps. I want them to have a bright future."

Operation Blessing's mobile out of school training program provides skills in dressmaking, cosmetology, practical electricity and furniture making.

For one month, Jetro, Bella and 73 other rebel returnees are housed in the military camp while they receive skills training.

Along with the practical education, the rebel returnees attend a values formation class where they learn about God and principles of Christian living.

This particular class was meaningful to Jetro. for the first time in his life, he felt assured that his sins are forgiven.

"What I did was really terrible, but I asked the Lord for forgiveness and I believe He has forgiven me because I am still alive and He is giving me another chance," he proclaimed.

Dr. Kim Pascual is the chief operating officer of the Operation Blessing Foundation Philippines.

"The impact of this program is the transformation on the life of the person. They have skills and be able to raise their family. And so they will not go and rebel against the government. This is a long range solution to the problem of insurgency," he said.

"With the skill that I have, I can have a job that can help me sustain my family," Bella said. "That is my contribution to help solve the political and economic crisis of the country, not by armed struggle but by obedience to God."

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

CBN News Asia Correspondent

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