MANABO, ABRA – In Abra, members of the former Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) are at the forefront of defending and stewarding the natural resources within their lands through their new role as Bantay Gubat.
“We man checkpoints, patrol the mountainside, and assist tree-planting activities under the National Greening Program,” said Renato, a Bantay Gubat employee and member of the former CPLA, in the vernacular. “It’s good work.”
As Bantay Gubat patrol members, they affirm and carry forward their ili’s (community’s) commitment to defend and protect Abra’s rich yet vulnerable forest resources, standing guard against all manner of illegal and unsustainable extraction practices, including logging, poaching, and the like.
Some forty years ago, under Martial Law, villagers in Abra and other Cordillera towns bravely fought to stop the Cellophil Resources Corporation from logging nearly 300,000 hectares of their forested areas and domains.
Their employment as forest guards is in fulfillment of the commitment of the national government to the agreement it signed with the Cordillera Bodong Administration- Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CBA-CPLA) in July 2011. The agreement aimed to bring closure to the existence of CPLA as an armed group and to pave the way for their transformation into an unarmed, potent socioeconomic force.
“Back then, when we were farmers and members of the CPLA,” Renato recalled, “we really struggled.”
“Now, as part of the Bantay Gubat patrol, we have a sense that we are contributing—and to a government program, at that.”
Narciso, a fellow former combatant-turned-Bantay Gubat patroller, agrees.
“We really believe that the program has improved our lives,” Narciso said. “We have found a reliable source of income for our family’s needs—from food, to our children’s school supplies, their clothes, and more.”
Bantay Gubat is a joint project of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), carried out through the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program. It is implemented by Abra’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office. Bantay Gubat has employed a total of 91 members of the former CPLA who are now productive contributors to their local communities.