The New People’s Army was dealt a major blow this week in Palawan when one of its top leaders, Alimar Libuna Toting, abandoned his command and decided to turn himself over to authorities.

Identified in defense circles as “Ka Allan”, he told reporters in a press conference following the official announcement of his surrender that he had long been planning to surrender in the hope of reuniting with his family. In his interview with Palawan News, he narrated his rebel life story, beginning with his work in a palm oil plantation, his recruitment to the NPA, and his rise from its ranks.

His surrender came about as a personal decision, with family as the most compelling motivation to try and restart a new life much different from the ideological vision of society envisioned by the revolutionary Left after taking over the reins of government. From his own narration, Ka Allan surrendered simply because he got tired of fighting and now just wants to live a normal life like most everyone else.

The military estimates the local NPA force in Palawan to be comprised mainly of somewhere around 30 armed members and an undetermined number of mass supporters. Tactically, it is organized under the so-called Valleber Command and has been engaged in hit-and-run operations, attacking vulnerable military and police targets whenever the terrain is in their favor. For its part, the military has pursued them relentlessly with the aim of minimizing or negating their armed capability and trying to alienate them from their mass support. This has been going on for decades, with no significant breakthrough in finally ending the insurgency or even forging a local ceasefire.

Ka Allan and his motley force of rebels are the government’s target of a counter-insurgency campaign, dubbed as a “whole of nation approach” that is anchored on pursuing a localized peace agenda. We have yet to see the government making headway on the effectiveness of this strategy, including what appears to be a predilection to search and destroy.

Palawan is a natural breeding ground for insurgency. With poverty affecting more than half the populace, primarily involving indigenous communities, desperation and radicalization happen here. It is striking enough that the story of Ka Allan’s surrender provides no ideological underpinnings at all, which speaks volumes about the hollow foundation of Palawan’s insurgency.

Ka Allan’s surrender offers the government a unique opportunity to make its “whole of nation” approach work in Palawan, by helping show his comrades what Ka Allan now envisions – that there is a life of peace and family beyond living a hunted life. If there is a major lesson that has to be learned from Asia’s longest-running insurgency, it is the fact that the military approach alone does not suffice.

Addressing local poverty and improving the economic lot of every Palaweño will provide the all-important atmosphere that will promote peace in the province, a priority strategy that challenges local governments and the military establishment to focus on. By improving people’s lives and creating a peaceful alternative, we can only hope that more of Ka Allan’s comrades will be willing to take the peace option with dignity and reason.