DENR hiring ex-communist rebels as forest guards
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will hire former communist combatants as forest guards, as part of their impending closure peace agreement with the government, Undersecretary Ma Cleofe Sandoval of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPPAP) said.
Of the 105 members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) who are qualified under the program, 95 attended the orientation and training program initiated by DENR and OPPAP at the Sugarland Hotel in Bacolod City on Tuesday, September 10.
Founded by rebel leader Arturo Tabara in 1998 on Negros island, the RPA-ABB is a breakaway group of the New People’s Army (NPA).
OPPAP also led the groundbreaking of a P37-million farm-to-market road in Barangay Locotan, Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental, last week.
Livino Duran, DENR regional technical director for Western Visayas, said the hiring of RPA-ABB members as forest guards form part of the livelihood support extended to them by the government in line with the impending signing of the closure peace agreement by President Benigno Aquino III.
“We believe that more people involve in the forest protection campaign, the more effective [the program will be],” Duran said.
These former rebels are not strangers to the provincial government's environmental efforts.
Since the administration of then Gov Joseph Marañon, the RPA-ABB, which is now known as Kapatiran sa Progresong Panlipunan (KPP), has been an active partner of Task Force Ilahas, an environmental enforcement unit of the provincial government.
The task force leads the fight against timber poaching activities at the Northern Negros Natural Park, especially in Don Salvador Benedicto town.
According to Forest Management Bureau Director Ricardo Calderon in Quezon City, this livelihood package has also been extended to former NPA and Cordillera People's Liberation Army rebels as "one way to bring them back into the fold."
Since 2012, around P100 million has been distributed by OPPAP to DENR regional offices to fund training and orientation of former rebels on how to be effective forest guards and provide them with allowance.
This "half-way employment" is also a boon to the anti-illegal logging campaign and forest protection efforts of the government, said Calderon. The former rebels are familiar with the forest lands, being locals themselves or having explored the areas when they were rebels.
Negros Occidental Gov Alfredo Marañon Jr had expressed his dismay over the delay in the signing of closure agreement between the RPA-ABB and the government. The peace agreement was signed in 2000.
Sandoval said they were informed that the draft of the closure agreement is now at the desk of President Aquino III and had been reviewed by OPPAP and several offices at the Office of the President.
She added that OPPAP and the President want to ensure that the provisions stipulated in the closure agreement can be implemented.
Around 70% or more than 700 armed RPA-ABB members are on Negros island. – with reports from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com