MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte cautioned rebel returnees against going back to their hometowns, saying they should join the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units instead.
"I suggest that you stay with the Armed Forces and be a CAFGU. You should be given that first so that you can go back to your hometown. You can't go back to the mountains anymore unless you kill them all," Duterte told 238 rebel returnees at a merienda he hosted in Malacanang.
Duterte promised to provide them and their children free education and training, especially since "there is a scarcity of skilled workers even in Manila" for the government's massive infrastructure program.
"Education is already free under my administration. Even you can to go to school," he said.
"Your children's education is free now. I'll be the one to provide funds for their training. I will order TESDA to go to you to give you your training. But if not, we'll pay for a truck. You will board the truck and you will be taken to TESDA where there is a master electrician. The training will last for about three to six months. That's why you see people who don't have trouble finding a job," Duterte added.
The President also plans to give out about a thousand housing units to former rebels on a "first come, first served" basis.
"There are around 1,000 units, some are in Talomo and some are in Bangkal. It's almost done. It's supposed to be given to the military and police, but I'll give them to you instead. I'll look for something to give to you. I will tell them [military] --- I will look for something new for them. They can live in Insular Village, it's very simple there. If not, they can live in Shrine," Duterte said.
"I will give it to you as long as many of you will surrender. Tell those who are still in the mountains, "Go home now."" He added.
There had been high hopes when Duterte came to power that peace would finally be achieved between the government and communists following five decades of insurgency.
But such hopes were dashed after the President decided to scrap negotiations over what he thought was the communist rebels' lack of sincerity.
Last December, Duterte signed a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army a terror organization, marking a major shift in the once-vibrant ties between the tough-talking leader and the armed Left.
The Department of Justice also filed a petition before the Manila Regional Trial Court to cite the CPP-NPA as terrorist organizations.