Deceptive and divisive "reforestation" program

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Barrio “Sulong” is among the barrios covered by the reactionary government’s bogus reforestation program called the Enhanced National Greening Program (E-NGP). The state is using this program, with the help of the military, to grab the lands of farmers and intensify its counterinsurgency campaign.

The level of corruption of this program was evident during a meeting organized by occupying soldiers in the name of Retooled Community Support Program (RCSP) in February. During the meeting, the military partnered with the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to push for the planting of commercial trees in at least 68 hectares of farmlands. The DENR imposed the planting of rosewood and naga trees within three years, and bamboo after these are harvested.

The DENR appointed barrio leaders to distribute ₱250 daily wages to residents who will be made to plant trees. Tillers of the affected land were given no compensation. The agency only promised them that they will be able to use the wood to construct their houses and for other needs. It also promised to have their lands titled.

The agency insisted on planting these trees even if the areas covered by the program have long been productive. In these lands, residents used to plant coconut, sweet potatoes and other important crops which are needed by the community. In the name of reforestation, the DENR obliged farmers to demolish their farms to pave the way for the planting of trees with a gap of one square-meter in between.

In reality, the DENR is only using reforestation as pretext to grab the lands which have long been cultivated by farmers. The agency reclassified the agricultural lands as forest lands to reconcentrate ownership of these to the state, and allow these to be leased or sold to foreign commercial plantations, big landlords, and their bureaucrat counterparts.

The ₱250 daily wages promised to farmers is measly and temporary. It is even lower than the legislated ₱295-minimum wage for agricultural workers in the region. (In Leyte, caretakers are paid as low as ₱11 per day.) Farmers who accidentally damage trees are fined ₱6,000 or imprisoned.

Civilian agencies such as the DENR are made to serve the reactionary government’s counterinsurgency campaign through its whole-of-government approach. In some cases, reforestation mapping is used as a tool for surveillance. The RCSP troops also use the NGP to justify military presence in barrios.

Measly budget allocations often result in misunderstanding among barangay residents. Instead of promoting collectivity, the DENR is encouraging farmers to go their own ways which destroys their solidarity and discourages mutual aid.

Barrios such as Sulong face the challenge of exposing the deceptive nature of the E-NGP and should be wary of the entry of agroforestry companies in their areas. They need to do this in order to effectively defend the victories they have won through agrarian revolution in their villages.

(Excerpt from Larab, July 21, 2021.)

Deceptive and divisive "reforestation" program