Errol Abada Gatumbato

The forestland co-management

BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO

The Forestry Development Center of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources in University of the Philippines Los Baños, in cooperation with several institutions and projects, is now working on a draft policy paper on forestland co-management between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units, which shall be submitted to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for consideration.  The co-management scheme evolved since the DENR is still the primary government agency responsible on environment and natural resources management in the country. While the Local Government Code has devolved certain DENR functions and responsibilities to LGUs, it is still constraint by the provision of the law that actions of LGUs pertaining to devolution are still subject to review, control and supervision of the DENR.

This co-management scheme is not actually new because there were several experiences in the past when the DENR entered into a memorandum of agreement with LGUs. In Negros Occidental, for instance, long before the devolution, the DENR has entered an agreement with the provincial government in creating the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Council to act as a recommendatory body in the issuance of any resource use permit and other related concerns. However, the council was overtaken by events, especially with the enactment of LGC, and no longer operational today. But to my knowledge, the MOA has never been revoked and repelled.

In Nueva Viscaya, the provincial government likewise entered an agreement with the DENR in allocating forestlands for production sharing scheme. The said agreement created a steering committee that was responsible in the issuance of sub-agreement with interested individuals and groups in using portions of forestland for production purposes. I am not aware though if the scheme is still working, since there were issues raised as to the authority of the steering committee in sub-allocating forestlands.

Even in protected areas, the so called co-management has already been implemented. One best example is the Puerto Princesa Underground River Natural Park in Palawan. By virtue of a MOA with the DENR, the city government of Puerto Princesa is directly managing the protected area. The municipality of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro also entered a MOA with the Protected Area Management Board of the Apo Reef Natural Park in ecotourism development of the PA. Similarly, the PAMB of Mount Kanla-on has executed a MOA with La Carlota and Bago Cities for nature-based tourism, and another one with San Carlos City for multiple use development. In a recent development, the provincial government of Negros Occidental also expressed interest in co-managing the Northern Negros Natural Park.

The LGC may also be used to advance the participation of LGUs in forest management. In Polillo Group of Islands in Quezon province, the municipalities of Burdeos, Panukulan and Polillo simultaneously enacted ordinances for the declaration of Local Conservation Areas, covering about 7,000 hectares of forestlands. In Oriental Mindoro, the provincial government is likewise interested to enter partnership with the Mangyans in managing their ancestral domain in Mount Halcon.

The co-management system became more pronounced with the implementation of the USAID supported EcoGovenance project, which facilitated the development of this scheme between the DENR and LGUs in several parts of the country. This is also being considered as an important strategy in a project currently implemented by the German Development Corporation (GIZ).  The DENR and the Department of Interior and Local Government have jointly issued two circulars for the implementation of forestland co-management. With the available enabling policies and experiences, do we need another policy covering our forestlands?

The proposed policy will cover the so called “open access” forestlands or forestlands that are not presently covered with any kind of land tenure instrument awarded by the DENR. The main purpose of this draft policy is to ensure the participation of local governments in securing untenured forestlands for purposes of poverty reduction, food security, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. It is envisioned by this proposal that each LGU in the country shall undergo forestland use planning to identify open access forestlands, which may be subjected to co-management between the DENR and LGUs.

Personally, I don’t see the need to enact a separate policy on co-management because it is already covered with two memorandum circulars already issued jointly by the DENR and DILG. Unfortunately, these two current circulars, the latest of which was issued in May 2003 – DENR-DILG Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2003-01,  are not fully implemented because majority of LGUs in the country has no updated forestland use plan. Some LGUs are not even aware of the existence of MC 2003-01.

There is also another executive order on sustainable forest management, which similarly calls for the active participation of LGUs in the protection, rehabilitation and sustainable use of the country’s forestlands. Executive order No. 26 issued recently by Aquino requires, too, the participation of local governments and other institutions in the implementation of the National Greening Program. If only we shall maximize the different provisions of the LGC, LGUs are already mandated to share with DENR certain forest management authority, functions and responsibilities. However, the devolution is likewise constraint since in most areas in the Philippines the DENR has devolved some of its forest management personnel, programs and projects, such as the Integrated Social Forestry and other community based projects, to provincial government, and not to city or municipal governments.  A number of provincial governments in the country did not bother to turn over the DENR devolved community based projects to municipal and city governments.

But just the same, there is no harm in trying to propose another executive order on co-management for purposes of emphasis, clarity and compliance by both the DENR and LGUs, in as much that a large track of forestlands remains unsecured from destructive activities. The lack of clear institutional mechanism is one of the many reasons why our forestlands are not properly managed in accordance by which they were classified as such. Some of these forestlands are biologically important and habitat to numerous endemic species, although we could not also assume that they are still completely forested.

March 31, 2012 - Posted by | Conservation Initiatives, Forest Ecosystem

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