HISTORY OF AKLAN
Combatants turned tree farmers and forest managers
Former rebel members in the province of Aklan turned environmentalists – they now work on seedling production and assist in apprehensions of illegally transported forest products. From being government enemies, they are now staunch forest protectors./DENR-Aklan photo
Masculine males raising seedlings for forest plantations? It may seem odd but this story of how former rebel combatants turned tree farmers and forest managers will inspire many that when one pursues the path of peace, they will always have a place under the sun.
They are no strangers to mountain trails – even those without a trail. They cross forest boundaries in the province of Aklan with arms that are supposed to protect them from the armies of the government whom they considered as enemies. The mountains are their refuge and from its peak, they have a good view of every hills and valleys.
Decades of fighting however have left them exhausted and they have yearned to live their lives in peace. “We become tired of fighting, weary of the sound of the guns,” one of their leaders said. Soon enough, a good chance was opened up for them.
Members of the Rebolusyunaryong Partido ng Manggagawa sa Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletariat Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade–Tabara Paduano Group (RPM-P/RPA/ABB-TPG) based in the province of Aklan were given the opportunity to become part of the complementary track to peace negotiation with the Philippine government in 2000. The move was taken a step further with the signing of a Clarificatory Document on the issues raised on the substance and procedural aspects of the Peace Agreement. Then, in 2002 the Joint Enforcement and Monitoring Committee (JEMC) under Executive Order No. 335 was created.
In 2011, the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) was the national government’s convergence program that extends development interventions to isolated, hard-to-reach and conflict-affected communities to ensure that they are not left behind. PAMANA has five components which include: a) Community Peace Dividends; b) Social and Economic Reintegration of RPM-P/RPA/ABB Members; c) Disposition of Arms and Forces with Provisions for Joint Interim Security Arrangement; d) Provision for Civil-Political Rights; and, e) Institutional Transformation of the RPM-P/RPA/ABB – TPG.
Under the social and economic reintegration, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 6 has identified a settlement area for the former rebels called peace and development community (PDC) site, production area and livelihood opportunities within the PDC. A tenurial instrument shall be provided for the PDC site through a presidential proclamation. In 2012, there were five (5) identified PDC sites in Aklan and are located in the tri-boundary of Barangays Cabugao, Rivera and San Jose in Ibajay.
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) and the members of the RPM-P/RPA/ABB–TPG have identified the PDC sites. Also, the Ibajay Municipal Technical Working Group (TWG) and the DENR surveyed the PDC site. In 2014, RPM-P/RPA/ABB–TPG was transformed into a duly registered people’s organization known as “Kapatiran Para sa Progresong Panlipunan”, also known as Kapatiran for short.
Anchored on the OPAPP–DENR Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2013-02, the DENR 6 has provided livelihood opportunities to fourteen (14) profiled members of the RPM-P/RPA/ABB–TPG and they were hired as forest guards. The 14 male members strongly augmented forest protection activities through surveillance and monitoring of illegal activities in the forestlands. They were tasked to raise 3,000 seedlings every year which were planted in open areas of National Greening Program (NGP) plantations.
“We are thankful to DENR for giving some of our members the chance to earn a living. It is not much but it suffices for our daily needs,” said Jessy Batoy alias “Ka Bebing”, the president of Kapatiran–Aklan Chapter.
Aside from raising seedlings, their contribution to DENR’s environmental efforts cannot be underestimated. To wit:
- After the wrath of Yolanda, rebel combatants turned forest guards have assisted in the inventory of fallen trees in Aklan’s natural forests in 2013-2014;
- Assisted in the survey of forest occupants in Aklan River Watershed Forest Reserve in 2013;
- Assisted in the distribution of donated lumbers to the beneficiaries who are typhoon victims in 2014-2015 during the Gobyerno sa Barrio; and
- Assisted in the validation of survival rates of NGP sites of PENRO Aklan from 2014 up to present and in replanting established NGP plantations without plantation maintenance and protection budget [CY 2011 – 2013 NGP Plantation]
Notwithstanding their educational backgrounds, the 14 RPM-P/RPA/ABB–TPG easily learned and applied what they were taught from Capability Building Seminar in Tree Inventory, Survey of Forest Occupants and Familiarization of Permits and Chainsaw Registration and ENR Law Enforcement.
“It was necessary for them to learn how to work as forest guards and we are happy that after they learned the job, they have become a force to reckon with in the hinterlands. They have successfully augmented the department’s surveillance and monitoring works,” said DENR 6 Regional Director Jim O Sampulna.
The former rebels are still awating the signing of the Closure Agreement which will eventually transform them into a socio-economic, unarmed organization. With the PAMANA still a priority under the Six-point Peace and Development Agenda of the Duterte administration, hope still brightly burns in the hearts of Kapatiran members.
Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Jesus Dureza said that President Duterte has approved the peace formula presented to him. Among the six-point peace agenda were: peace promoting catch up socio-economic development in conflict affected areas, and building of a culture of peace and conflict sensitivity, where PAMANA will be included.
The sounds of the guns and blastings have finally faded into the distant past. Years of working for the environment and with the government has stirred in their hearts the chance to live a better tomorrow. It is never too late.