LA TRINIDAD, BENGUET – Former members of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) who are now employed as Bantay Gubat (forest guards) of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently seized two illegal chainsaws, according to Forest Protection Officer Oliver Bilango of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO).
“For us, that is a big accomplishment,” Bilango says.
There are 13 members of the former CPLA in Benguet who are now working as forest guards under the National Greening Program (NGP) of the government. Seven were employed by PENRO last July 2013 and six others were absorbed as of September 2013.
“Naayatan kami ti panag-join da (We are very happy that they joined us),” Bilango adds, referencing the newly-hired forest guards’ active roles in addressing illegal forest activities in the province.
“Most of them are cooperative and willing to work.”
Former CPLA members’ employment into the NGP is part of the socio-economic reintegration component of the 2011 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed between the government and the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA)-CPLA. The 2011 MOA aims towards the CPLA’s disposition of arms and forces and its transformation into an unarmed socio-economic group.
A separate MOA between DENR and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process sealed the deal of hiring former rebels under the NGP using PAMANA (Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan) as the framework for peace and development.
There are six municipalities in Benguet where the forest guards are on duty. They are La Trinidad, Kibungan, Kapangan, Tuba, Tublay, and Sablan. Nine of the 13 forest guards are assigned to their corresponding barangays as Detection Forces. The other five are assigned as Striking Forces who are tasked to respond to illegal logging as reported by the Detection Forces.
According to Bilango, Tuba is the hottest spot of illegal logging because of the need of the small-scale mining industries for charcoal. Other locals cut trees, burn them into charcoal, and sell them to the public as a form of livelihood.
The Forest Protection Office is now helping these Tuba locals by linking them to concerned government agencies that can provide them with alternative livelihood.