MANILA – Environment Secretary Gina Lopez said Thursday she planned to enlist communist rebels for development projects in mining communities in Agusan del Norte province.
Mining companies are required to set aside a portion of their operating costs for development projects in host communities, and in Agusan del Norte alone some P100 million are available annually, Lopez said.
“I already asked the President if I can work with the NPA,” Lopez told a business forum, adding she recently met with a rebel representative, whom she described as an “ex-seminarian.”
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging one of Asia's longest-running Maoist insurgencies.
President Rodrigo Duterte has restarted peace talks to end the rebellion that has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives.
An army officer in the audience asked Lopez how her plan would affect security in the province. She replied: “They’re really nice if you meet them.”
“What I’ve seen with the NPA, they just really want to get people out of poverty, they’re really not bad people,” she said.
“If we’re able to engineer a situation where they have inputs into the development plan, where their children and the people there can put food on the table and send their kids to school and everybody’s earning and the place is beautiful, why will you fight?”
“My hope there is we do it in one place, we’ve done it everywhere,” she said.