THE Army’s 53rd Infantry “Matapat” Battalion (IB) marked the First Commencement Exercises for 41 “Friends Rescued” (former New People’s Army rebels), who undergone extensive training under the Project Good Life.

The commencement exercises was held Friday, January 21, at Camp Major David Sabido, home of the 53IB in Villanueva Road, Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur.

It forms part of the 53IB’s 37th Founding Anniversary, which is anchored on the theme “MATAPAT@37: Victory in time of Convergence.”

Dr. Moibe Olitres, Good Life Academy president, presented the milestones of Project Good Life and the results of assessments for former rebels’ (FRs) overall state of happiness, optimism, satisfaction, mindset, mental health, and wellbeing during the commencement exercises.

“I always tell everyone that Project Good Life is ours. We cannot achieve these milestones without collaborative efforts coming from all our stakeholders,” Olitres said.

Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, 53IB commander, said the commencement exercises mark a new beginning in the lives of the FRs.

“We are soldiers, and our skills are primarily in warfighting. But because of the evolving operational environment, the army and stakeholders converge to end the local communist armed conflict in Zamboanga del Sur,” Herrera said.

“We were able to decisively accomplish this 10-month Psychoeducation project intended to sustain the peace and help the FRs in their transformation to become responsible and productive citizens,” he added.

Project Good Life for “Friends Rescued” is a 10-month inclusive Well-being Psychoeducation Program (Pneuma or Spirit-Psyche) or Soul-Soma (Body) Holistic Care Research and Community Extension Program initiated by the 53IB in partnership with various organizations and national government agencies.

It aims to translate the initial strength-based research inquiry among former NPA rebels, who surrendered to the 53IB, to community extension service.

It is a need-based program for FRs to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70, which institutionalizes the Whole-of-Nation Approach to end local communist armed conflict in the country.

Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Kristine Evangelista, the guest speaker of the commencement exercises, congratulated the FRs for a job well-done, saying they are now ready to go back to mainstream society.

“Congratulations for exerting your best efforts, FRs! After months of learning necessary knowledge and skills, you are now prepared for your reintegration into mainstream society,” Evangelista told the graduates.

“Congratulations to all the completers. This is proof that the Whole-of-Nation Approach in this province is effective,” said Brigadier General Jose Randolf Sino Cruz, assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division.

Zamboanga del Sur Governor Victor Yu, Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict chairperson, lauded the 53IB for providing an avenue for the FRs to grow through Project Good Life.

“I express my deepest gratitude and congratulations to the 53IB for professionally taking care of our FRs, who are also our constituents. You have shown to them that there is a wonderful life that awaits them,” Yu said.

“This should not be the end of your learning endeavor; this is just the end of a chapter that helped you realize that there is more to be learned. You will be gaining more once you keep an open mind, and we hope that we have smoothly guided you back to the mainstream society,” Yu told the FRs.

Also present during the commencement exercises were the various stakeholders, including provincial and regional directors of national government agencies and non-government organizations in Zamboanga Peninsula. (SunStar Zamboanga)