Sunday, October 25, 2009

5 kidnapped forest rangers freed in Southern Philippines

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 25, 2009) – Five forest rangers kidnapped in the southern Philippines had been freed Sunday after a series of government negotiations, reports said.

Government negotiations began Friday after two of the seven captives - Emeliano Gatillo Jr. and Efren Sabuero - had been freed in the town of Sibagat in Agusan del Sur.

The remaining captives - Gabriel Arlan, Rito Espinido, Teofredo Pujadas and two others identified only as Clar and Abogatal – were released unharmed in the province. It was unknown whether the release of the hostages was connected to the demands of the kidnappers.

The seven were abducted by tribesmen who demanded the government to cancel all forest agreements with commercial loggers in areas where there are presence of indigenous communities.

Chief Inspector Martin Gamba, a spokesman for the police task force handling the case, said the negotiation was spearheaded by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

The NCIP is the primary government agency that formulates and implements policies, plans and programs for the recognition, promotion and protection of the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples with due regard to their ancestral domains and lands, self-governance and empowerment, social justice and human rights, and cultural integrity.

Gamba said the kidnappers are believed members of a local indigenous tribe, adding the negotiations were held in the hinterland village pf Padiay in Butuan City in Agusan del Norte province.

The seven men rangers, who are all employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, were kidnapped on October 21 near a forest checkpoint in Butuan City.

The military said the kidnappers have made four demands in exchange for the freedom of the hostages after a man who claimed to be the leader of the gang holding the foresters contacted the DENR.

Major Michelle Anayron, a spokesman for the Army’s 4th Infantry Division in Mindanao, said the kidnappers demanded the cancellation of the Community-Based Forest Management Agreement in the town of Sibagat; the awarding of the Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title; government approval of customary farming and the cancellation of the Integrated Forest Management Agreement with commercial logging companies in their area.

The Community-Based Forest Management Agreement in the town of Sibagat had already been canceled Friday by the government. (Mindanao Examiner)

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