Senator Ralph Recto said the government should start “running the numbers” on the financial cost of an all-out peace with Moro and Communist rebels, which may include “transforming the Red army into a Green army” that will guard the country’s diminishing forestlands.
The minority leader said parallel to talks between the government negotiators and their counterparts in the various Moro secessionist groups and the National Democratic Front “is the conduct of a study that will compute the cost of transitioning former combatants to civilian life.”
Recto said “this might be seen by others as putting the cart before the horse, but for this great opportunity for peace to succeed,” government should anticipate what it would require to realize peace in our time.
“On the part of the government, there should be strategic thinking on forward budget estimates on the cost of demobilization. So our panel will know the parameters that can be offered. We have to start drawing up scenarios,” he said.
“Whatever the bottomline is in terms of financing, I know that it will be less than the cost of war,” Recto said. “Yes, pounding swords into plowshares is less costly but we must know the exact figures.”
Recto cited, as an example, the challenge of “demobilizing combatants” as a major point of discussion in any peace negotiation plus the creation of a mechanism that will ensure that peace is sustained.
Other potential expenditures which can be the subject of “forward estimates” are social reform projects needed to uproot the causes of insurgency, Recto said.
He said the Senate minority “squarely backs the ongoing multiple peace initiatives” of the Duterte administration and “is ready to contribute to its success, especially on how to finance the end of war and the start of peace.”
Recto said one area which the GPH-NDF panel can consider in the future is how “to eventually deputize the parts of the New People’s Army [NPA]” as guardians of the forest, “on the possibility of the Red army becoming a Green army.”
Recto said the nation’s forests need reinforcements, as there is only one government guard per 3,376 hectares.
“The lack of forest guards has made our timberlands prone to fires, poachers, and destruction,” he said.
In 2014, it was reported that there were only three full-time forest guards patrolling the 11,000-hectare Mount Banahaw protected area in Southern Tagalog while about two dozen guards protect the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed in Bulacan, which supplies 97 percent of Metro Manila’s water.
Even the 54,965-hectare Mount Apo National Park, which was hit by fires last summer, has only 16 regular forest rangers, Recto lamented.
As to how to fund this future recommended role for the NPA as “ecological warriors,” Recto said if the government will continue the National Greening Program of the past administration, “then we have an annual source of funds.”
Recto was referring to the massive program which reforested 1,125,701 hectares from 2011 to 2015 at a cost of P24 billion.
On the Southern peace front, forging lasting peace with Bangsamoro rebels would also require funding, the senator said.
For our economic managers to have an idea of the “price tag of peace,” there should be a study conducted this early, Recto said.
Based on a Department of Budget and Management estimate presented to the House of Representatives in May 2015, the areas planned to be covered by the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law would get as much as P337 billion in funding in a span of five years.
The funds include the annual block grant; Internal Revenue Allotment, special development fund; transition fund; certain national internal revenue tax collections in the Bangsamoro; and other retained income and appropriated funds.