5. Forest Harvesting in Community Based Forest Management in the Philippines: Simple Tools Versus Complex Procedures

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5. Forest Harvesting in Community Based Forest Management in the Philippines: Simple Tools Versus Complex Procedures




Forest harvesting by communities offers great potential to reduce poverty in the Philippine uplands. The country has approximately 1.5 million ha of second-growth “production forests” that can be utilized commercially on a sustainable basis by thousands of poor upland communities. While not as economically valuable as natural forests, timber from tree farms also offers viable livelihood opportunities to upland communities. Aside from timber revenue, additional income may also be generated from branches and thinnings sold as firewood or converted to charcoal.

Most rural villagers already possess the necessary skills for manual flitching1 of timber from natural forests. They also know how to plant and tend tree farms since trees have always been an important component of their farming systems. Furthermore, policies set forth in the Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) Program of the Philippine Government envisage active involvement of the rural poor in the management of both tree plantations and natural forests.

Despite its immense potential to reduce rural poverty, community timber harvesting has not been effectively harnessed by the Philippine Government. While natural timber harvesting only requires “simple tools” to benefit the poor upland communities, “complex procedures” continue to obstruct the realization of this potential. We view “simple tools” to be of two types: (i) simple physical tools such as hand saws, animal skidding2, and other simple equipment; and (ii) procedural tools such as simple management guidelines, simple approvals, simple inventory techniques, simple management plans, and the like. On the other hand, existing “complex procedures” relate to a blend of policy/political, institutional, and operational factors whose combined effects hinder the achievement of the poverty reduction objective of CBFM. This paper reviews the opportunities and constraints for poverty reduction through timber harvesting in upland communities, and suggests that realizing this potential will require the reduction of “complex procedures” and adoption of “simple tools”.

Overview of community based forest management

Until recently, policies on the commercial utilization of the country’s timber resources consistently favored the wealthy and politically more influential concessionaires under the so-called timber license agreements (TLAs). Such policies contributed to the socio-economic and political marginalization of the rural population, and also to the continuous degradation of the country’s forest resources (Broad and Cavanagh 1993; Kummer 1992; Porter and Ganapin 1988; Vitug 1993).

Following Rebugio and Chiong-Javier’s classification (1995), the evolution of community forestry over the last three decades can be loosely divided into three categories. First is the pioneering period from 1971 to 1980. This term saw the adoption of three major people-oriented forestry programs, namely the Forest Occupancy Management (FOM), Family Approach to Reforestation (FAR), and Communal Tree Farming (CTF). In general, these programs centered on the involvement of local people in reforestation activities. People were seen more as labor-providers rather than partners in forest conservation and development. Considering the volatile political situation during this time, community forestry was also seen as a counterinsurgency measure to maintain political stability and order in the countryside (Porter and Ganapin 1988). However, it was during this period that the forestry sector started to realize that the problem of unsustainable deforestation is not merely technical, but also socio-political in nature.

The second category is the integration and consolidation period from 1981 to 1989. This marked the adoption of two main people-oriented forestry programs, namely, the Integrated Social Forestry Program (ISFP) and the Community Forestry Program (CFP). ISFP consolidated the three earlier programs, while recognizing the vested rights of the forest occupants through the provision of a 25-year tenure security arrangement. Meanwhile, CFP extended the coverage of community forestry to natural forests, allowing participating upland communities to commercially utilize forest resources subject to appropriate social and technical preparation. From being merely laborers in reforestation activities, local people were increasingly recognized as the de facto resource managers, hence, partners in forest development and conservation.

1 Flitching refers to the process of cutting logs into strips.
2 Skidding refers to the dragging of logs.

The third category from 1990 to the present is the expansion and institutionalization period. This term is characterized by the growth of community forestry to include various land-use types not originally included in the first two periods. In particular, community forestry coverage included degraded watershed areas and practically all types of forests where there are indigenous cultural communities. Increasing support from international funding agencies such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation fund, United States Agency for International Development, and other multilateral and bilateral donors also defines the period, especially from the late 1980s to early 2000. Efforts to provide tenurial security during this period led to the evolution of various types of tenure instruments. Moreover, attempts to alleviate upland poverty while ensuring the sustainability of the forest resources induced the development of a diverse array of income generation mechanisms and models for the uplands.

Various forms of institutional arrangements also continued to evolve during this period. From purely government-implemented projects in the 1970s, the practice of community forestry has increasingly involved upland communities in forest management. This is made possible through the formation of people’s organizations with assistance from other stakeholder organizations such as non-government organizations (NGOs), local government units (LGUs), academia, and others.

Recently, the different programs and projects that emerged during the last two periods were “integrated and unified” into one umbrella program, otherwise known as the Community Based Forest Management Program (CBFMP), through Executive Order (E.O.) No. 263 (July 1995) and the Implementing Rules and Regulations, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order No. 96-29 (October 1996). E.O. 263 adopted CBFM as the national strategy for sustainable forestry and social equity, thereby institutionalizing the practice of community forestry in the country.

The formal adoption of CBFM frames the main government strategy towards the restructuring of the once corporate-controlled timber industry. Timber Licensee Agreements (TLAs) controlled one third of the country’s total land area of 30 million ha from 1971 to 1977. With the shift in the government’s forest management approach in favor of CBFM starting in the late 1980s, TLA areas have gradually declined to the present 0.54 million ha due to the cancellation of non-compliant licensees and non-renewal of those that have expired. At the same time, from less than 200,000 ha in 1986, the CBFMP currently covers some 5.97 million ha of forestlands involving 5,503 individual sites and directly benefiting more than 690,000 households. Of these, around 4.9 million ha are under various forms of land tenure arrangements, with 1.57 million ha covered by Community Based Forest Management Agreements (CBFMA) (Figure 1).3

3 CBFMA is an agreement entered into, by and between the government and the local community, which has a term of 25 years and is renewable for an additional 25 years.

Figure 1. Status of CBFM Implementation

Potential of forest harvesting in CBFM

Without doubt, the harvesting of forest resources by communities has tremendous potential to reduce rural poverty in the Philippines. This potential is illustrated by the following data:

On privately-owned lands that cannot be farmed profitably, and on denuded government-owned lands, average annual growth rates in tree-farms devoted to fast-growing timber species6 are at least five m3 per ha.7 While not as valuable as timber from natural forests, the prevailing price for these species is not less than US$ 40 per m3. This is equivalent to a potential annual income of around US$ 200 per ha, plus additional revenue from branches and thinnings sold as firewood or converted to charcoal.

4 Official statistics of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
5 217.5 million m3 x US$ 60 per m3 = US$ 13.05 billion.
6 For example: Gmelina arborea, Acacia mangium, Eucalyptus deglupta.

Rural villagers already have the skills required for manual flitching of timber from natural forests. They also know how to plant and tend tree farms. Furthermore, policies set forth in the Government’s CBFM program envision active involvement of the rural poor in the management of both man-made and natural forests. Given this policy framework and the prospects for significantly increasing rural income, one would assume that forestry is already contributing to reduction of rural poverty.

The CBFM program, which in principle supports sustainable timber harvesting by local communities for commercial purposes, was launched in 1995. Its predecessor, the CFP, began as early as 1989. Both of these development interventions were preceded in the mid-1970s onward by similar programs and projects focusing on tenure security, agro-forestry, tree-farm development, community organization, training, and related initiatives. Most of these programs and projects have been supported by international donors, NGOs, and other concerned stakeholders. After all this time and support, have the poverty alleviation and other objectives been realized?

Constraining factors

Unfortunately, the poverty alleviation, community empowerment, and environmental management objectives of the CBFM program have not been realized except in a few rare cases (see for instance Borlagdan et al. 2001; and Pulhin 2005). Why not? What are the factors that stand in the way of reducing poverty in rural communities through active participation in forest management?

There are no simple answers to these questions. One could cite the widely-held, but mistaken perception that forest management cannot be implemented effectively without a large-scale investment in machinery and sophisticated technical expertise. Due to this false perception, many government planners, decision makers, and financial managers doubt that community participation in forestry is a viable strategy. Consequently, they withhold support for such initiatives. Additionally, distorted media reports, coupled with strident advocacy work by some NGOs, tend to create the erroneous conclusion that forest harvesting is synonymous with total deforestation. Riding on “sound bytes” that generate negative attitudes towards forestry in general, opportunistic politicians espouse short-sighted policies that seek to ban any and all forms of timber harvesting, whether by communities or corporate entities. Another factor is the generally recognized resistance to change among many professional foresters and forest agencies. While often agreeing with the concept that communities can and should have a major role in forest management, this amounts to little more than “lip service” with very few tangible inputs toward achieving either community-based forestry or poverty alleviation.

All of these factors pose challenges that need to be addressed in the Philippines and in other countries where the opportunities for forestry to reduce rural poverty are beginning to be recognized. However, this paper primarily focuses on another set of constraints: namely, rules and regulations that are unrealistic in a community context, and which serve no useful purpose with respect to sustainable forest management.

7 Jurgen Schade (1988), the then Executive Adviser and German Team Leader of the RP-German Forest Resource Inventory Project cited an annual growth of 5 to 10m3 per ha for albizzia, eucalyptus and pine plantations.

In the Philippines, and in other countries as well, practitioners of community-based forest management are required to produce sophisticated forest management plans wherein the annual allowable cut (AAC) is computed on the basis of prescribed inventory procedures and formulas. By contrast, villagers in Imazu, Gifu Prefecture in Japan, limit the AAC to one tree per hectare per year, and have followed this practice for more than 100 years (Forestry Agency of Japan 1995). Their forests remain intact and productive while using a very simple procedure for calculating the AAC. Both of these approaches have the same objective – sustainable forest management. But between these two procedures, it does not take much analysis to conclude which is more appropriate and more feasible for communities to implement. In the Philippines, communities are forced to seek assistance from professional foresters who know how to conform with government standards for the preparation of complicated forest management plans. Is it realistic to assume that the residents of impoverished rural villages have the financial resources to pay for the services of professional foresters?

Rules that govern scaling are another impediment in some Asia-Pacific countries. Logs must be scaled after felling and bucking, then scaled once again in log form when loaded on hauling trucks. Scaling of flitches is not allowed. How can a community with no heavy equipment be expected to comply with scaling rules that require movement of a round log from the forest on to a truck? If timber can be accurately scaled in lumber yards, is it not reasonable to conclude that flitches can be scaled accurately in the woods.

Regulations to control the transport of harvested timber create additional problems. Communities are required to obtain permits for moving timber from the woods to roadside, and another permit to transport the timber to buyers. At first glance, compliance with these rules would seem to be a simple matter. However, offices of the agencies authorized to issue permits are many kilometers away from the forest. Each time a community requests issuance of a permit, someone from the village must travel to the office of whoever has authority to sign a permit, hope the individuals he or she needs to see are available, and facilitate their travel to the production site. These individuals will inspect the timber, return to their offices, and submit their inspection report to their head of office for signature. It is only then that the timber can be moved. Bureaucratic delays are inevitable and are compounded by the need to travel back and forth several times. Granting that inspections are necessary to determine compliance with cutting limits, is there any valid reason for multiple permits, which require multiple inspections?

Tree farmers who develop plantations on their own private lands have complained bitterly about the need for transport permits. Regulations originally formulated to monitor and control the removal of timber from natural forests are being enforced on planted timber. This has led to a proliferation of checkpoints along transport routes, ostensibly to prevent the movement of illegally cut logs. In theory, the tree farmer is required to present a transport permit at each checkpoint. In practice, the persons manning the checkpoint waive this requirement after demanding and receiving an unofficial payment. The requirement to obtain and produce transport permits has created an environment conducive to corruption. Indeed, there is a standing joke that checkpoints are actually “cash points” because the people manning these facilities do not accept checks.

Legislation was introduced in the Philippine Congress more than 10 years ago to streamline and update forest policies, rules and regulations. But this important piece of legislation has lain dormant. More recently, the Society of Filipino Foresters (SFF) drafted legislation doing away with transport permits for timber grown on private land. This proposal is also languishing in Congress.

An unfortunate result of the above problems is the fact that being issued with a tenure instrument in the Philippines, particularly a CBFMA, does not provide the participating communities any assurance that they can engage in timber harvesting or benefit economically from the forest. In principle, a CBFMA entitles the community the right to occupy, possess, utilize, and develop the forest lands and resources, and claim ownership of introduced improvements in the area. In reality, the permit for timber utilization may be withheld or cancelled by the government on its own volition at any time. Over the last three years, for instance, three DENR Secretaries issued nationwide cancellations of all CBFM resource utilization permits (RUP) due to alleged violations of some participating People’s Organizations (POs). Investigations of these cases revealed that violations were indeed committed by a few POs. The investigations further revealed that the violations were carried out in connivance with DENR field personnel. Unfortunately, all POs nationwide were punished for the transgressions of a few POs and some DENR personnel.

The series of cancellations had adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts, including the reduction in income or loss of livelihoods by the concerned POs, loss of communities’ interest to participate in CBFM activities, erosion of people’s confidence in the government, and acceleration of forest destruction due to reduction of forest protection activities by the local communities (Pulhin and Arboleda in progress).

The greatest blow to CBFM, however, happened less than a year ago when the former DENR Secretary cancelled about 1,200 of the more than 1,500 CBFMAs nationwide without due process. This was a major violation of the CBFMP provisions. Fortunately, implementation of the cancellation order was stopped by the new Secretary due to pressure from civil society and from legislators during the DENR budget hearing. However, the propensity to order wholesale cancellations remains a big threat to the sustainability of CBFM and its potential to help reduce poverty in the Philippine uplands. Existing policies state that CBFMAs have a duration of 25 years and are renewable for the same period. Unfortunately, recent experience demonstrates that the CBFMP policies can be set aside through a single stroke of a pen by people in power, with complete disregard for due process of law.

Conclusion and recommendations

Community Based Forest Management has been alluded to as representing a major paradigm shift in Philippines’ forest management from a centrally controlled approach benefiting the privileged few towards a more participatory “people-oriented” strategy. The latter envisions improvement of the socio-economic welfare of poor upland communities through the promotion of social equity and justice while advancing sustainable forest management. While much of the original old growth forest of the country which served as the traditional sources of commercial timber have been degraded over the last century, the remaining second-growth forests still represent a rich natural resource that can be utilized commercially on a sustainable basis by thousands of poor upland communities. Forest harvesting by communities in these areas offers a great potential to reduce poverty and improve current forest management.

However, despite the immense potential of community timber harvesting to reduce rural poverty, “complex procedures” continue to obstruct the realization of this potential. For CBFM to be able to contribute to poverty reduction, the following strategies should be pursued with the aim of reducing “complex procedures” and adopting “simple tools.”

  1. Include subjects on the financial feasibility and use of animal-powered skidding technologies in the curricula of forestry education institutions. This can help legitimize timber extraction procedures that are feasible for communities to implement in their struggle to overcome rural poverty. Many graduates of these institutions will eventually be employed by forest agencies and be in a position to influence the crafting of simplified rules and regulations.
  2. Adopt rules that combine scaling at the stump, followed by flitching in the woods, such that animal-powered skidding can be applied while concurrently ensuring accurate methods for determining the volume of timber subject to payment of government royalties.
  3. Deregulate the harvesting, extraction, and utilization of plantation species grown on private land. At present, most of these species are exotics. Thus, drawing up a list of deregulated species would not be difficult.
  4. Develop simple area-based criteria for determining the annual allowable cut. For example, one tree per ha per year on marginal forests, two or three trees per ha on medium density forests, and four or five trees per ha on rich forests. Set standards for “marginal,” “medium density,” and “rich” forests that can be determined by simple random sampling of strips.
  5. Provide forest extension agents with the skills needed to disseminate methods for accurate determination of road and skid trail gradients using simple calibrated “A-frames” fabricated on site.
  6. Devolve responsibility for issuance of permits to field offices located within easy travel distance from forests managed by communities. Use only one form for scaling and for extraction, hauling, transporting, and selling. This can be done by simply adding lines to be signed first by the scaler, and next by the officer authorized to issue the permits.
  7. Develop “filling in the blank” forms for preparation of management plans, indicating who will do what, when, and how. Provide “check the appropriate box (es)” on these forms. Specify that approved management plans are valid for at least five years, subject to updating by the community as and when needed, by re-submission of “filling in the blank” forms.
  8. Include the organization of information field trips for media representatives, NGOs, and government decision makers in the work plans or terms of reference (TORs) of forest officers to help demonstrate that forest harvesting is not synonymous with deforestation.
  9. Provide satellite imagery that clearly illustrates forest conditions to the media, NGOs, and government decision makers so they have accurate information on forest cover. This may help dispel the negative perception that “all is lost.”
  10. Conduct studies that provide accurate data on the employment opportunities generated by medium- and small-scale enterprises that are dependent on reliable supplies of timber. Previous studies deal principally with the formal forestry sector but do not include the large number of people working in small furniture shops, carpentry, production of boxes to transport agricultural products, charcoaling, and supplying firewood to bakeries, restaurants, and households, and other wood-based jobs.
  11. Institutionalize a multi-stakeholder participatory policy and decision-making process to ensure that the interests of the communities and other important sectors will be adequately represented.


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Borlagdan, S. B., Guiang and J. Phulhin, 2001. Preliminary Assessment of Community-Based Forest Management in the Philippines. A final project report submitted to the Ford Foundation Inc., Philippines which was a joint undertaking of the Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University and the Department of Social Forestry and Forest Governance, University of the Philippines Los Banos.

Broad, R. and Cavanagh J., 1993. Plundering Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines. Anvil Publishing, Manila.

Forest Management Bureau, 2004. Community-Based Forest Management: A National Strategy to Promote Sustainable Forest Management. Briefing material presented during the meeting of the National Forest Program (NFP) Facility Coordinator based at FAO Bangkok and the DENR Undersecretary for Field Operations on November 17, 2004 at FMB Conference Room, DENR, Quezon City.

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Kummer, D., 1992. Deforestation in the post-war Philippines. Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, Philippines.

Porter, G. and D.J. Ganapin, 1988. Resources, Population and the Philippines' Future: A Case Study. World Resource Paper No. 4. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C., USA.

Pulhin, J. M., 2005. Enhancing the Philippine’s Community-Based Forest Management Implementation Strategy: Synthesis of Six Case Studies. Final Report submitted to the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under the National Forestry Programme Facility managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Pulhin, J. M. and L. Arboleda, in progress. Advancing Environmental Justice through CBFM: Possibility or Illusion? A proposed book based on the outputs of six case studies on the impacts of the cancellation of Resource Utilization Permits in selected CBFM areas under the UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources Environmental Justice Project.

Rebugio, L. and M. Chiong-Javier, 1995. Community Participation in Sustainable Forestry. In Review of Policies and Programs Affecting Sustainable Forest Management and Development (SFMD). A policy report submitted to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Vitug, M., 1993. The Politics of Logging: Power from the Forest. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippines.

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