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9 Community forestry in the Philippines: a country report - Felix M. Eslava Jr.[10]


The paper reviews the different reasons that led to the emergence of community forestry as an approach to forest resources development and management in the Philippines. It then traces the evolution of community forestry from the time it started as a bottom-up approach (1970s) mainly to stabilize individual upland farms to one that covers different forest land areas and land-use mixes (1990s). As to the status of the programme, the paper noted a shortfall in the forest land area between what the programme envisioned to be placed under community management in 1998 and what is presently under the communities’ care. Notwithstanding this difference, the area managed by forest communities is very much wider than what is now under the management of timber operators (5.3 million ha against 1.4 million ha). This indicates a significant shift in the government’s forest management approach in favour of forest-dependent communities. However, the issue is whether the forest communities can manage the forest areas in a sustainable way. The paper then looks briefly at the measures that are being undertaken by some forest communities. Issues that confront the implementation of community forestry in the Philippines constitute the last topic of the paper.


There are several reasons that led to the emergence of community forestry or community-based forest management in the Philippines. In their review of the literature, Guiang et al. (2001) came out with the following reasons. While some of these were derived from literature published outside the country, they seem to hold true also in the Philippines.

1. dismal performance of the state in forest governance;

2. unequal opportunities provided to different sectors of the society in forest resource management which appeared to favour more the rich than forest-dependent communities;

3. forest dependent communities having larger stake in sustainable forest management as their survival is dependent on this resource base;

4. local communities having better knowledge and understanding of the terrain, the resources, their constraints and opportunities;

5. many forest-user groups have developed knowledge systems and institutions allow to regulate local forest use;

6. when decisions, programmes and projects are done by those who should know them best (the people themselves), responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency optimally obtained;

7. forest protection and sustainable use more effectively achieved when local communities plan and implement these themselves;

8. local communities being in a better position to respond to such emergencies as fire outbreaks, encroachment, or timber poaching;

9. both indigenous peoples and migrants having been the subject of government neglect and gross injustice for a long time either through inequitable resource allocation, or outright displacement by favoured logging or mining concessionaires;

10. community forestry viewed as concrete effort to realize the national ideals of democracy and social justice.

Notably these reasons expanded as community forestry in the Philippines also expanded in its coverage and scope. In this connection, it may be appropriate to present a historical sketch on how community forestry started in the country.


Participatory planning and bottom-up approaches to forest resource development and poverty alleviation started in the 1970s when the government formulated a number of programmes directed to integrate upland communities in the mainstream of forest resource management. These included the Forest Occupancy Management (FOM) in 1975, the Family Approach to Reforestation (FAR) in 1976 and the Communal Tree Farming Programme (CTF) in 1979. Although these programmes as implemented rallied local people as labour providers in forestry activities rather than as partners in forest conservation and development (de Luna 2000, Pulhin 2003), they marked the beginning of a period where the forestry sector realized that the problem of deforestation is not merely technical but also socio-political in nature (de Luna 2000).

In 1982, as the upland people were increasingly recognized as the de facto resource managers of the forest land that they occupy, Letter of Instruction 1260 was issued consolidating the CTF, FOM and FAR into one comprehensive programme, otherwise known as the Integrated Social Forestry Programme. This programme was basically directed to provide security of tenure to forest occupants through a 25-year Certificate of Stewardship Contract (CSC) or Certificate of Forest Stewardship Agreement (CFSA) and enhanced the capability of farmer beneficiaries to sustain the economic productivity and ecological stability of their settled lands. Supplementing this programme was the launching of the National Forestation Programme (NFP) in 1988 offering a new reforestation policy allowing families, NGOs and corporations to reforest open forest lands by contract. A sequel to this was the institution of the Forest Land Management Programme in 1990 allowing families and organizations to manage areas reforested through the NFP. Interested parties can enter into a Forest Land Management contract with the privilege to keep the land productive and harvest the fruits of their labour for a period of 25 years renewable for another 25 years.

To democratize access to forest resources and to provide organized upland communities equitable share of forestry benefits, the national government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources established the Community Forestry Programme in 1993 (DAO No. 22). In addition to involving communities in the protection, rehabilitation, management of denuded forest lands and utilization of residuals or logged-over areas including old-growth forests if warranted, this programme also emerged as a community-based approach for the re-establishment of management of abandoned, cancelled or expired Timber License Agreements that would otherwise remain untended or protected (de Luna 2000).

Since the 1990s, the growth of community forestry continued to expand to include various land-use types not originally included. In particular, community forestry areas in the Philippines now include any or a combination of the following: 1) forest lands previously reforested or with existing reforestation projects; 2) grasslands quickly becoming as expansion area of upland agriculture; 3) areas with productive residuals and old-growth forests; and 4) areas occupied by indigenous cultural communities or multiple-use and buffer zones of protected areas and watershed reservations (de Luna 2000, Guiang et. al. 2001, Pulhin 2003). Various forms of institutional arrangements also continued to evolve during the period.

In 1995 through Executive Order No. 263 issued by the incumbent President of the Philippines during the period (President Fidel V. Ramos), Community-based Forest Management (CBFM) was adopted as the national strategy to achieve sustainable forestry and social justice. Thus, henceforth CBFM became the framework through which the national government works with local government units, NGOs and forest-dependent communities in addressing forest resource development and poverty in the uplands. It is premised on the principle of ‘people first and sustainable forestry will follow.’ Through this strategy, all people-oriented forestry programmes of the government were integrated and unified. These included the Integrated Social Forestry Programme (ISFP); Forest Land Management Programme (FLMP); Low Income Upland Communities Project (LIUCP); Regional Resource Management Programme (RRMP); Integrated Rainforest Management Project (IRMP); Coastal Environment Programme (CEP); and the Ancestral Domains Management Programme (AMDP) (de Luna 2000, Pulhin 2003).


In pursuing CBFM as a strategy, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which is the national agency of the government mandated to implement state policies on the development and utilization of natural resources, is guided by the following objectives: a) sustainable management of forest resources; b) social justice and improved well-being of forest-dependent communities; and c) strong partnership between forest dependent communities and DENR.

One key component of E.O. 263 besides integrating all people-oriented forestry programmes is the issuance of long-term tenurial instruments, the Community-based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA) to deserving upland migrant communities and Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) and Certificate of Ancestral Land Claims (CALC) to indigenous cultural communities. These instruments legitimize the occupation, development, protection and use of the forest lands that forest communities depend for their livelihood.

The rights of indigenous peoples were further strengthened with the passage in 1997 of Republic Act No. 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA). Through this law, individual and communal forest lands covered by CADC and CALC can now be titled and regarded just like any private property.

CBFM as formulated is implemented in four stages, namely the Preparatory Stage, the Peoples’ Organization (PO) Formation and Diagnostic Stage, the Planning Stage and the Implementation Stage. The Preparatory Stage covers among others the creation of awareness among local government units (LGUs) and the general public about CBFM, establishment of institutional linkages between DENR and relevant units (LGUs, NGOs, etc.), identification of potential CBFM areas and selection of CBFM sites. The PO Formation and Diagnostic Stage includes community organizing building and strengthening; defining existing conditions relevant for planning (e.g. social, economic, physical environment); and activities directed towards obtaining the CBFMA.

The Planning Stage is concerned mainly with the preparation of the Community Resource Management Framework (CRMF), Resource Use Plans (RUPs) and the Annual Work Plans (AWPs) by the POs with the assistance of NGOs or field personnel of DENR. In the mean time that the CRMF, RUPs and AWPs are being prepared, the POs may be provided interim Resource Use Permits that allow them to harvest forest products from their forest.

The Implementation Stage includes activities that will enhance organizational and institutional capacities to make resource use and development sustainable. Among others, this stage sets the POs to implement their plans including the distribution of benefits if warranted.


The DENR Strategic Action Plan for CBFM envisions that 9 million hectares of classified forest land will be placed under community management by the year 1998. This constitutes about 58 percent of the country’s total forest land area (about 15.8 million hectares). As of 2000, CBFM covered only an area of around 5.3 million hectares (DENR 2000, cited in Guiang et al. 2001) involving around 355 000 families (Tesoro 1999, cited in Pulhin 2003). Table 1 shows a breakdown of the total area of public forests and forest lands covered by CBFM.

Table 1. Area of forest lands covered by CBFM with tenurial instruments as of 2000 (thousand hectares)


No. of instruments


Period of issuance



2 546

As of June 1998



1 971

As of September 2000


442 124


1983 - 1996


442 971

5 332

Source: DENR (2000) cited in Guiang et al. (2001).

Although short of the target by around 3.7 million hectares, the area under the control of forest communities is 3.8 times larger than that given to the private sector under various instruments (Guiang et al. 2001). The area of 5.3 million hectares was also noted to be larger than the total area of about 4.6 million hectares allocated for protected areas, national parks, sanctuaries, wilderness and watershed reservations.

With the apparent shift in the government’s forest management approach in favour of CBFM, the area under the control of the social elite represented by privileged timber license operators was likewise drastically reduced from 8-10 million hectares in the 1960s and 1970s to only 1.4 million hectares at present (de Luna 2000, Pulhin 2003). While this was observed to be a drastic departure from placing into the hands of timber concessionaires the management of forest resources to forest communities, one big difference is that the forests then were still intact and with high economic value (Guiang et al. 2001). Be that as it may, the area of productive residual forests and the value of forest products located therein are still quite sizeable as the following discussion shows.


Within the 5.3 million hectares of forest lands covered by CBFM tenurial arrangements, it was estimated that about 1.3 to 1.5 million hectares representing about 70 percent of the total productive residual forests in the country are under the management of recipients of CBFMAs and CADCs. Assuming a 20-m3 harvestable natural timber per hectare, timber assets of CBFM areas were calculated to be at least 26 million m3 (Guiang et al. 2001). Assuming further that the forest communities are allowed to harvest at least 750 000 m3 y-1 using a 35-year sustainable cutting cycle, the same authors (Guiang et al. 2001) projected that this is worth P3.7 billion per year (based on the average price of timber at P4500 m-3). Government forest charges were estimated also to be about P900 million per year.

On top of these timber assets is the physical area itself covered by CBFM. According to estimates, 60-70 percent of the 5.3 million hectares are upland farms, grasslands and brushlands which may have the potential for development as tree farms, orchards or the cultivation of high-valued perennial crops (Guiang et al. 2001).

With these resources under the management of forest communities, it is apparent that indeed community forestry has all the potential to help them improve their impoverished conditions. It is only a matter of time before these assets entrusted to forest communities can play a major role in alleviating poverty (Guiang et al. 2001). In fact, it has been reported that in two sites where resource use permits were provided, audit reports of CBFMA holders show that the communities have earned adequate revenues from the sale of timber in their productive forests (Abrigana 1998, cited in Guiang et al. 2001). The issue, however, is whether they can manage their forest resources in a sustainable way and keep the open lands under their care productive. In this connection, Pulhin (2003) opined that the immediate task of CBFM in the Philippines is to create and nurture an enabling environment in which the forest communities can be guided toward this direction. To achieve this, different strategies are being pursued, namely the creation of people’s organizations (POs) or the strengthening of existing ones among recipient forest-dependent communities; participation of nongovernment organizations in building and strengthening of POs to plan and manage their resources including the monitoring of their financial capital (Guiang et al. 2001); provision of security of tenure over forest lands; promotion of livelihood projects; and decentralization of forest governance (Pulhin 2003).

In relation with decentralization, there are two on-going programmes in the country supported by two different international institutions. The first is the Eco-Governance Programme being implemented by DENR under the support of USAID aimed at strengthening the ability of local government units to address threats to the country’s coastal and forest resources including assessment and implementation of integrated solid waste management. The second is the Community-based Resource Management Project being implemented in Regions 5, 7, 8 and 13 by the Department of Finance through the Development Fund Office with funding from a loan from the World Bank. Actual project implementation is undertaken by LGUs through organized members of their communities or POs (Candelaria 2002).


In this section, two aspects of CBFM are highlighted to show how this particular strategy has been embraced by recipient forest-dependent communities. Borrowing the findings of Guiang et al. (2001) in their study of 29 sites, the first focuses on the objectives of community forestry that guided these 29 sites in the management of their CBFM areas. The second centres on the practices adopted by the communities that promote sustainable forest management including stabilization of upland production systems.

For comparison purposes, the 29 sites had been classified by the researchers into three based on how these were originally organized, namely self-initiated sites, locally assisted sites and national programme sites. The self-initiated sites are described as the community-wide indigenous resource management systems while the locally assisted sites represent those that emerged largely by partnership of sponsors, facilitators, academic or research institutions and locality-based national government agencies. The national programme sites include all sites where DENR implemented various aspects of CBFM including those in protected and watershed areas. The 29 sites included 5 self-initiated, 9 locally assisted and 15 national programmes sites.

Resource management objectives

Table 2 presents the distribution of the different sites in terms of their resource management objectives. Through this table, it is apparent that the dominant resource management objectives of the different categories of CBFM appear to be the management and development of natural and plantation forests or the installation of forestry systems for natural and plantation forests. Although the data seem to have been diluted by other sites visited aside from the 29, the convergence of objectives along this direction is very clear among the different categories of CBFM. Among others, the reason offered to explain this (with the exception of selfinitiated sites) is the notion that such objective may have been influenced by the perception of project design teams, donor agencies or service providers such as assisting organizations, extension workers, researchers, etc. As opined by Guiang et al. (2001), it is the project staff who facilitated in most cases the process of helping communities better perceive and contextualize natural resource problems by relating these with water, health and other easily understandable events or items.

Table 2. Community resource management objectives

Resource management objective

Number of sites

Self- initiated

Locally assisted

National programme


· Improvement of upland production systems(upland agriculture, agroforestry, tree farming)





· Installation of forestry systems for natural and plantation forests (management of residual forests and brushlands for timber and non-timber products, plantation development and management, contract reforestation, fuelwood production and management, food production)





· Watershed management (for the use of water for irrigation and domestic purposes)





· Knowledge promotion and training (training and demonstration)





· Biodiversity conservation





· Ecotourism promotion and management (e.g. waterfalls)





*Total includes sites visited, aside from the 29, that did not yield complete data.
Source: Guiang et al. 2001.

Such reasoning may also be applicable for the next dominant resource management objective, namely watershed management. As can be noted in the table, there is a strong bias toward this objective in national programme sites which implies that the national government looks at CBFM as one of the strategies to address the worsening on-site and off-site impacts of deforestation. However, while this may be so, the possibility of convergence between the desire of the government and the interest of forest communities to improve the condition of watershed areas under their care cannot be discounted. As previously stated, some if not most of the forest lands provided to them for community management are badly degraded and unproductive to begin with. Thus for them to benefit from these lands, they have to be restored also to ensure their food security.

The inclusion of stabilizing and increasing upland production systems as a key natural resource objective is expected. Increase in food production and fulfillment of basic needs are considered basic to supporting CBFM. These constitute one bundle of economic incentives in community forestry as the recipients are given the opportunity to make productive open forest lands through the establishment of agroforestry farms, orchard plantations, etc. The literature is replete with many documented studies on this subject.

Although the 29 sites seem to have not given much importance to knowledge promotion, biodiversity conservation and ecotourism promotion as resource management objectives, it is still inspiring to note that some realized these as important objectives of their communal effort. Consideration of these objectives by some forest-dependent communities gives the impression that community forestry has really a bright future among some recipients of CBFMAs.

Adoption of sustainable forest management practices

The following table (Table 3) shows the sustainable forest management practices adopted by the 29 sites as recorded by Guiang et al. (2001).

Table 3. Sustainable resource management practices

Sustainable resource management practice

Number of sites


Locally assisted

National programme


· Forest protection (patrolling, management of checkpoints, firefighting, apprehension of illegal encroachers)





· Conservation of natural forests (selective cutting oftimber and non-timber, marketing and transport, thinning, timber stand improvement, enrichment planting, seasonal harvesting for biodiversity conservation, natural regeneration, and long fallow period





· Development of man-made forests (plantation establishment and maintenance, nursery management and seedling production, tree-farm development, bamboo plantation)





· Forest planning and regulation (zoning, resource-use allocation, inventory and cutting regulation, water distribution system, participatory decision-making, internal control mechanism, audit)





· Rehabilitation (assisted natural regeneration, control of riverbank and gully erosion, slope rehabilitation)





· Upland agriculture and agroforestry (slope agricultural land technology, livestock production, multicropping, contour farming, terracing, composting, establishment of natural vegetative strips)





*Total includes the sites visited, aside from the 29, that did not yield complete data.
Source: Guiang et al. 2001.

From the table, it is apparent that forest protection, conservation of natural forests, upland agriculture and agroforestry received greater attention than forest planning, rehabilitation and development of man-made forest plantations. This is rather understandable as recipient communities have to earn and produce something out of their community forest for them to be able to survive. Note, for instance, that under the conservation of natural resources, the focus includes selective cutting of timber and non-timber, thinning and timber stand improvement including the transportation and marketing of products gathered through these activities. These activities, besides being considered as sustainable forest management practices, give some financial return to communities which all the more motivate them to manage their forest responsibly. This may also explain why forest protection is widely practised by the 29 sites as this is interrelated with conservation of natural resources as a sustainable forest management practice.

The adoption of upland agriculture and agroforestry as a resource management practice by most if not all the sites studied by Guiang et al. (2001) is not surprising. Historically, CBFM emerged to satisfy the need for land to provide a decent living for the migrant communities in the upland. Since its inception, the fulfillment of the communities’ basic needs, especially food, has been an integral part of community forestry in the Philippines. Several donor programmes also supported this direction recognizing the basic importance of food security for forest communities to become responsible forest managers. The growth of agroforestry as a discipline in the Philippines can be traced also through the recognition of this objective in helping forest communities keep their farms ecologically stable and productive.


Although CBFM as implemented appears to be promising, it is also fraught with issues and problems that require urgent and concerted action among key players. Among the issues and problems identified are:

1. Many community organizations are still relatively weak in carrying out their obligations under the CBFMA or CADC. Organizational problems that afflict many CBFM sites greatly compromise their capacities for collective effort in performing their tasks as resource managers. According to Guiang et al. (2001), despite investments and community organizing efforts, farmer training and related capacity-building efforts, many community organizations still need support and assistance in the areas of organizational management, enterprise development, financial management, field level technical forestry and community planning.

2. Although the issuance of CBFMAs and CADCs has democratized access to forests and forest lands, resource use rights are not integrated with these documents. For forest communities to economically benefit from their tenured areas, they need to prepare their community resource management framework (CRMF) and annual work plan and have these approved by the government (the DENR) before they are issued resource use permits. Consequently, this requirement, as noted by Guiang et al. (2001), makes forest communities so state-dependent that they cannot move without going through the grind of the government bureaucracy. Compounding this is the issue about the unpredictability of policies and instability in the issuance of resource use permits that makes community forestry the object of skepticism among recipient communities. For instance, at the present time, resource use permits issued cover only the harvesting of minor forest products and plantation species. Harvesting of mature trees from natural growth forests has been suspended.

3. Related with the above is the insufficient income of most CBFM recipient communities to finance their CBFMA obligations. To a great extent such constraint affected the interest and commitment of many recipient communities to stick to their obligations as resource managers. According to Guiang et al. (2001), the lack of funds either from national subsidies or internally generated profits gradually eroded the gains of community forestry in the Philippines. With inadequate income to finance their obligations, there is the fear that recipient communities may revert back to their ecologically destructive resource use practices.

4. There is an inadequate involvement of LGUs in the implementation of CBFM despite the devolution of some environment and natural resource functions to them by the national government. While many LGUs have the means to invest and support CBFM, they do not clearly understand their roles and responsibilities in environmental governance as embodied in the Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160). Some do not have the right perspectives and incentives strong enough to address natural resource management issues at their level (World Bank 2001, as cited in Guiang et al. 2001). Some even complain that the national government retains full control in local forest management and what were decentralized to them are all responsibilities (Pulhin 2001).

5. With the adoption of CBFM as a national strategy to achieve sustainable forestry and social justice, there is the need to shift within the DENR organization from the traditional orientation of regulatory-oriented forest land management strategy to a developmental and service-oriented agency. Such change is necessary to conform to its new responsibility particularly in promoting social equity and upgrading the socio-economic conditions of forest dependent communities. However, as Pulhin (2001) noted, most of the DENR personnel, including those involved in the implementation of CBFM, have not appreciated or internalized their new roles and responsibilities in catalyzing sustainable forest management. There is also a lack of field personnel with multiple competencies to facilitate a more effective and efficient implementation of CBFM. The need for massive training among the DENR staff and a corresponding organizational restructuring is therefore apparent to keep the agency responsive to the demands of the programme.


Candelaria, A.F. 2002. A voyage of discovery in CBRMP. The CBRMP Chronicler. Manila, Philippines: Department of Finance.

De Luna, C.C. 2000. Social forestry programmes of Indonesia and the Philippines: a comparison. College, Laguna, UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Guiang, E.S., Borlagdan, S.B. & Pulhin, J.M. 2001. Community-based forest management in the Philippines: a preliminary assessment. Project Report. Quezon City, Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University.

Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines. 1995. Executive 263. "Adopting community-based forest management as the national strategy to ensure the sustainable development of the country’s forestlands resources and providing mechanism for its implementation". Manila, Philippines.

Philippine Congress. 1991. Republic Act 7160. "The Local Government Code". Manila.

Philippine Congress. 1997. Republic Act No. 8371. "The Indigenous People Rights Act". Manila.

Pulhin, J.M. 2001. Community forestry for sustainable upland development: the case of the Philippines. Paper presented during the Global Change and Sustainable Development in Southeast Asia: A Regional Science-Policy Conference held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 17-19 February 2001.

Pulhin, J.M. 2003. Trends in forest policy of the Philippines. Policy trend report 2002, IGES Forest Conservation Project.

[10] UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources College, Laguna, Philippines; E-mail:

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