THE “Bantay Kagubatan” program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) will be the government agency’s response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to assist the indigenous tribes in developing their ancestral domains into food production areas.

During Duterte’s meeting with the tribal leaders in the Navy Covered Court in Panacan last Thursday, February 1, he requested Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol to lead the development of ancestral lands into agricultural lands as these are just left unproductive and uncultivated because of the lack of proper projects to support its development.

He added some of these tribal groups lease their lands to private companies although the revenue returned to them is not enough to financially sustain the entire community.

“I have already prepared a program for the development of the Tribal Lands which I presented to then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez which was not implemented because she failed to make it through the Commission on Appointments,” Piñol’s post on his official Facebook page reads.

He added he will order Agriculture undersecretary for Special Concerns Ranibai Dilangalen to form a special team that will prepare the master plan needed for the project.

Together with the president’s directive, he also said that DA should work with the National Commission on the Indigenous People and other concerned agencies for the project’s realization.

“The ‘Bantay Kagubatan’ program calls for the engagement of farming families and tribal people in tree farming with intercrops of cacao, coffee, abaca, or black pepper. The participating families will also be supported with livelihood projects like raising native pigs and free-ranged chickens,” Piñol added.

On top of this, no-interest loans will also be made available to the indigenous tribe members which they can pay by the time they start harvesting their crops.

Piñol announced that starting tomorrow, February 8, he is going to meet different tribal groups in the country. He is set to start with the tribal groups residing in Saranggani Province.

“This will mark the implementation of a Presidential directive to focus on the Tribal Communities, a move which should have been done a long time ago,” he added.