The Philippine Army’s 53rd Infantry “MATAPAT” Battalion (53IB) marked the 1st Commencement Exercises for 41 Friends Rescued in a simple ceremony held on January 21, 2022, as part of its 37th Founding Anniversary celebrations with a theme “MATAPAT@37: Victory in Time of Convergence” at 53IB Headquarters, Camp Sabido, Villanueva Road, Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur.
Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Kristine Y. Evangelista, guest of honor and speaker, and Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (PTF-ELCAC) Chairperson and Governor Victor J. Yu graced the momentous event. Also present were Army’s 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division (1ID) Assistant Division Commander Brig. Gen. Jose Randolf Sino Cruz, Project Good Life President Dr. Moibe F. Olitres, and various stakeholders, including provincial and regional directors of national government agencies (NGAs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) in Zamboanga del Sur and Region 9.
Good Life Academy president, Dr. Moibe Olitres presented the milestones of Project Good Life and the results of assessments for FRs’ overall state of happiness, optimism, satisfaction, mindset, mental health, and wellbeing. “I always tell everyone that Project Good Life is ours. We cannot achieve these milestones without collaborative efforts coming from all our stakeholders,” Dr. Olitres said.
Meanwhile, 53IB Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said this marks 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,” he said.
Further, Lt. Col. Herrera emphasized, “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.”
Army’s 1st Infantry “TABAK” Division (1ID) Assistant Division Commander Brig. Gen. Jose Randolf Sino Cruz said, “Congratulations to all the completers. This is proof that the Whole-of-Nation Approach in this province is effective.”
In her message, Usec. Evangelista 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,” said USec. Evangelista.
Gov. Yu also congratulated 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,” said Gov. Yu.
For the FRs, Gov. 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.”
Project Good Life For Friends Rescued (FRs) is a 10-month inclusive Wellbeing 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 rebels of the 53IB to community extension service. It is a need-based program for FRs to support President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s EO 70, which institutionalizes the Whole-of-Nation Approach to end local communist armed conflict in the country.