Manila: With prospects for peace with major rebel groups shining brighter than ever under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, a Senator is proposing to transition former antigovernment fighters into guardians of the forests.
“This might be seen by others as putting the cart before the horse, but for this great opportunity to succeed, the government should anticipate what it would require to realise peace in our time,” Senator Ralph Recto said as he proposed to turn rebels into guards who will watch over hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest.
Efforts to end decades of conflict with the two main rebel groups have reached headway after Duterte took steps to bring the insurgents into governance as he promised during the presidential campaign. This involved giving positions in the departments of social welfare, agrarian reform and labour to known rebel personalities.
The insurgency had resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of fighters in the conflict — 47 years with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) and more than three decades with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as a recalcitrant faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari.
Recto suggested that to help transition some these fighters into peaceful and useful citizens of the Republic, these rebels should be given livelihood as well as responsibilities and duties. This could be done by giving these individuals roles as forest guards.
The Senator said the government should start by estimating the financial cost of engaging in an “all-out peace” effort with the MILF and CPP-NPA that will transform the insurgent army into a “green army” to guard the country’s diminishing forest lands.
Recto said parallel to talks between the government negotiators and their counterparts in the various Moro secessionist groups and the National Democratic Front (NDF) “is the conduct of a study that will compute the cost of transitioning former combatants to civilian life.”
“On the part of the government, there should be strategic thinking on forward budget estimates on the cost of demobilisation of the rebels. We have to start drawing up scenarios,” he said.
“Whatever the bottom line is in terms of financing, I know that it will be less than the cost of war,” Recto said. “Yes, pounding swords into ploughshares is less costly but we must know the exact figures.”
Recto cited, as an example, the challenge of demobilising combatants as a major point of discussion in any peace negotiation plus the creation of a mechanism that will ensure that peace is sustained.
He said that other potential expenditures are social reform projects needed to uproot the causes of insurgency.
Recto said one area which the government and rebel peace panel can consider in the future is how “to eventually deputise the parts of the NPA as guardians of the forest.”
“The lack of forest guards has made our timberlands prone to fires, poachers, and destruction,” he said.
He said the nation’s forests need reinforcements, as there is only one government guard per 3,376 hectares.