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Fact Summary

The Philippines is a democratic republic ruled by a President. Election of the President and Vice President is by election every 6 years.

Geography, Climate and Population

Spread from 5° to 20° north of the equator, the country has a total area of 300,000 square kilometres, and contains over 7,000 islands. The greatest distance from north to south is 1,854 km, and from east to west is 1,107 km. The Philippines lies about 100 km from the coast of mainland Asia. Most of the land is mountainous with volcanoes throughout the country.

The climate is hot and moist year round, but is cooler in the highland areas. It is hottest from March to May.

The population of the Philippines in 1995 was 70 million. This is projected to increase to 94.5 million by 2010 and to double in 30 years.


The increasing political stability of the country is fuelling significant growth and business output. GNP per capita is US$ 1130 (1996). Forestry as a contributor to GDP has declined significantly from 12% in 1980 to less than 1% in 1994. Other major industries include manufacturing - about one third of GDP - and agriculture.

Adverse natural events, including the eruption of Mt Pinatubo and a major drought, have, however placed strain on the economic performance recently.


The forest area of the Philippines is estimated to have declined from 12 million hectares in 1960 to a current level of about 5.7 million hectares (which includes less than 1 million hectares of virgin forest largely confined to very steep and inaccessible areas). It is difficult to obtain accurate land use data as all areas over 18 degrees of slope are classified as forest regardless of whether any tree cover is present. The official figure of forest area is about 33% of the land area. As indicated above, this is not supported by other data.

Harvests have reduced from 6.4 million m3 in 1980 to 0.8 million m3 in 1995. The reduction has been the result of a number of factors including a Government ban on the export of logs in 1986, a ban on the export of timber in 1989, and a Forestry Master Plan introduced in 1991 banning the harvest of virgin forests. This level of harvest looks set to continue in the foreseeable future. However this harvest level is inadequate to support domestic demand and the country has moved from being at least self sufficient to being a net importer of logs and lumber.

Most remaining virgin forests have been given protected status, but many of these areas are in critical condition and remain threatened due to inadequate protection resulting from lack of funds and lack of political will.

Apparent roundwood consumption has fallen dramatically in the past decade giving credence to the possibility of the country's forests being close to economic extinction.

In spite of these bans the rate of deforestation remained at about 150,000 hectares in the 1980s. Deforestation is caused by shifting cultivation, landuse conversion, forest fires, illegal logging and 40 million m3 of fuelwood harvested each year. Fuelwood demand continues to be strong, further exacerbating the critical position the forests are in. Fuelwood harvesting is believed to be seriously impacting on the remaining commercial forests.

In spite of this rather gloomy picture there are also some success stories. A total of 1.4 million hectares of plantation forest has been established with the Master Plan aiming to have additional plantations of about 3 million hectares by 2015, although this goal may be difficult to achieve.

Forest Policy

History and Trends

The history of forest policy in the Philippines can be divided into 4 main periods: a period of low exploitation during colonial, wartime and postwar eras; a period of increased exploitation for development during the post-independence era; a peak of logging and concession exploitation during the 1960s and 1970s; and one of building a forest products industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

The first period was largely dominated by Spanish Royal Decrees which focused on gaining revenue and keeping the Spanish navy supplied with timber. The population was small and thus pressure on the timber resource was limited.

Following the take-over of the country by the United States in 1898, the American Congress enacted the first Forest Act in 1904. This was to form the basis of forestry legislation until 1975.

The second period coincided with independence (1946) and the need to develop the country and its economy. The new constitution provided that all timber lands belonged to the state. Forest policy did not change much but greater emphasis was placed on the production of timber. This meant more revenue to the government, much needed to accelerate development.

This period also saw the change to modern mechanised technology and hence the ability to have a major impact on the forest over a large area. Also introduced was the application of selective logging of the dipterocarp forests. Prior to this development, logging occurred without much concern for any future harvest from the forest.

The third period was the peak period of exploitation of the Philippine forests, starting in the early 1960s. Harvests from the forest rose rapidly with little concern for long term sustainability of this harvest. The impetus for this "rush to destruction" came from three sources. The large multi-national logging companies were able to make enormous profits from the continued growth of harvesting volumes, often in association with local business people; the almost insatiable demand for logs from Japan in particular; and the government. The government almost took pride in the ever-increasing harvest which meant more foreign exchange and increasing revenue. By 1969, forest products constituted 33% of total export revenues, while at the same time local and international foresters were warning of the inevitability of the harvest diminishing if there was not a significant change in policy.

Ironically much of the revenue was being used to provide agricultural lands for rural populations who had no other way of making a living.

The fourth period saw a move towards a local forest products industry. During the 1960s and 1970s, as much as 80% of the recorded log production was exported as logs. Processing into lumber and plywood was almost seen as a residue industry.

In 1975 the government began a rationalisation programme for the industry, part of which required concession holders to do some processing. The other major component was a ban on log exports. These two components had what in hindsight was a predictable effect. A number of small, generally inefficient mills were built and grossly under-utilised, simply to comply with the new rules, while at the same time the companies continued with what they were good at and which was very profitable - exporting logs.

In 1979 a further attempt at restricting unprocessed log exports was made, with similar effect, and again in 1980 a proposed total log export ban was postponed indefinitely. It is said that large scale graft and corruption in the public sector contributed a great deal to the failure of attempts to control the harvest of the forests and the subsequent processing of logs.

To exemplify this was the banning of logging in three regions in 1985, which should have resulted in saving about 500,000 m3 of timber for the next two years' harvests. It is generally believed that the savings did not materialise because of rampant timber smuggling in banned areas.

Current Forest Policy

A major turning point in the history of the country and of forest policy was the democratic elections held in 1986, and the end of martial law and Presidential Decrees which had dominated life and policy development until this change. Key changes are highlighted below with regard to decentralization, resource tenure and forest development.


The new form of government looked to implement a range of changes including decentralisation of powers and much greater involvement of the people in decision making. The office directly responsible for administration of forest lands is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The legislative process includes open debate by elected representatives and public hearings to discuss proposed legislation. As in most countries the government department responsible for a portfolio has traditionally taken the lead in the development of new policy. Changes are beginning to show in this area also with much greater input being encouraged from NGO's and other interested groups.

The decentralisation process to involve the 200 regional, provincial and community offices has resulted in much more robust discussion of policy matters, and much more robust policy.

Resource Tenure

Many of the problems associated with the past large scale destruction of the forest resource can to some extent be traced back to a combination of land and concession tenure issues, and lack of ability or will to enforce the requirements of the concessions. In the situation where a short term concession is held or there is no long term security of tenure to land, there exists a clear economic signal to extract as much benefit as possible in the shortest time possible for the least cost, and to ensure no long term obligations are entered into.

This was exactly the case in the Philippines where the government held title to all forest land (effectively by decree) and was open to the graft and corruption which reportedly became rampant prior to the elections in 1986. Rural land users had no title and thus lacked any incentive to consider the long term sustainable output from the site. In fact to exacerbate matters they were not permitted to make commercial use of the wood and non-wood forest products, except with permission from the government.

From this it is evident that in common with many other countries, there is an urgent need to address the issue of land tenure in relation to the rural people and their rights to use the land and forest resources. Much of the post-1986 policy development has been developed with this matter in mind, with ongoing reforms to tenure issues. With consent from government, private individuals and entities may use forest land for traditional forestry purposes, pasture, agriculture and other pursuits under short term permits and long term leases. In upland areas, occupancy is legitimised through issuance of Certificates of Stewardship Contracts (CSC) which grant a 25 year tenure, renewable to 50 years. The grantees can receive assistance in agroforestry development and are encouraged to plant trees on at least 20% of the land they occupy.

Licences to exploit natural forest are covered by 25 year Timber Lease Agreements, designed to encourage greater compliance with the requirements of the licence. These terms include the requirement to replant some areas in trees following harvest for a subsequent crop from the land.

Forest Development

A Master Plan for Forest Development (MPFD) was formulated in 1990. A new set of regulations, including a draft of the Forest Code, a National Integrated Protected Area System Act, and an Environmental Code have been introduced to conserve the forest resources and address the problems of environmental degradation.

Pursuant to the MPFD, approximately one million hectares of residual logged-over forest has been targeted for management under the Community Forestry Programme over the next 25 years. This programme aims to involve local communities in the management of the forest resource and to encourage the large companies to focus more on processing of the products produced by the community projects.

In 1992 a complete ban on the logging of the remaining old growth forest was introduced. From that date all timber production was to shift to residual forest areas. Concurrent with this ban, all old growth forest, national parks and other protected areas are to be placed under an Integrated Protected Area System (IPAS), with the aim of preserving biodiversity and environmental values. Included in the IPAS is management to ensure no exploitation or occupancy of the areas and the proposed management regime for buffer areas to the actual IPAS.

Corporate sector involvement in the growing of industrial plantations is also encouraged through the Industrial Forest Plantation (IFP) Programme. The government, having recognised the need for an ongoing supply of forest products, has accepted that these will have to increasingly come from plantations rather than the natural forest estate. This is not to suggest that the natural forest will not continue to be a major source of forest products, but the reality is that there is a need for intensive management of all forest resources to meet the substantial demand that exists.

The IFP grants leases over large areas of denuded land for 25 years, renewable to 50 years, to private entities at minimal rates for the establishment of plantations. Investment costs can be written off as expenses. Forest charges are levied on timber harvests at rates much lower than those prevailing on harvests from natural forests. Plantation produce can be exported in raw or processed form, whereas produce from natural forests can only be exported in a processed form.

Rattan is given special consideration in the development of forest policy due to its importance as an export earner and importance to rural people. Rattan furniture accounts for about 30% of export earnings from the forest industry.

The new forest policy gives priority to tribal communities in awarding of rattan-gathering permits. The philosophy behind this is to increase the returns to the tribal communities by pressuring the rattan using factories to negotiate directly with the tribal gatherers, rather than a series of middle men. The desired outcome of this process is higher returns to the tribal people, who in turn will value the rattan higher, and thus will have a direct financial incentive to ensure careful, sustainable management of the resource. In addition to this approach, there are now mechanisms in place to assist tribal groups to become rattan processors in their own right.

Philippines - Summary

In recent times the most significant change has been the end of martial law and the election of a democratic government. While problems such as graft and corruption do not instantly disappear there has been progress in this area. This flows throughout the forest policy area in that government reforms are more likely to be implemented. The thrust of the policy reforms has been to:

· involve the people affected by decisions in the decision making process to a much greater extent;

· address the pressing problem of land and forest resource tenure. By giving certainty of tenure resource users are encouraged to manage the resources in a sustainable manner with the knowledge that what they do will impact on their own future;

· provide encouragement and assistance for community based development of forest resources, while at the same time ensuring that there is a place for the large companies which can provide the necessary capital;

· protect the remaining virgin forest areas, and provide greater protection to remaining residual forest areas for long term wood production;

· encourage the development of plantations to supply future wood needs. This encouragement includes tax incentives and exemptions from export restrictions.

Towards 2010

While considerable progress has been, made this must be seen in context. The Philippines has moved from being a major exporter of wood in both raw and processed form to a country facing a significant shortage of supply.

The recent changes in forest policy conform to the increasing recognition that government decree and bureaucracy cannot achieve sustainable forest management, and it is only through and by the people who are affected that a long term solution can be found. The "people-oriented" approach is expected to continue to be the focus of policy reform.

In particular, consideration should be given to addressing the following:

· The capture of forest rents and royalties: there is need for further reform, with records to be made fully auditable. Without the ability to audit the result, there is little confidence in the outcome from any party, and the system is left open to the plague of corruption that has existed in the past.

· Greater education and enforcement of compliance in the area of forest conservation: simply prohibiting the harvest of forest products (wood or non-wood) does not cause the activity to cease. There needs to be greater education as to why these steps have been taken and greater enforcement to ensure they are obeyed. The education process in many cases will require exploration of alternative sources of supply or income for the people involved.

· Re-examination of government policies that encourage the destruction of forest resources for whatever reason: agricultural production is the main concern here 2 and reform should promote improved use of land rather than simply relying on being able to clear more land.

2 Destruction of mangrove forests for fish ponds has also been a major cause of forest destruction to date.

· Research to define the forest resources remaining and to show how best to manage them for the multiplicity of goods they are expected to provide: this research need includes such fundamental matters as forest ecology and management techniques, through to the need to understand the economic and sociological forces at work in the country. This complex web of dependency of rural communities on the forest needs to be understood and incorporated in policy initiatives.

Policy reform needs to take the people with it rather than be thrust upon them. As such the initiatives already taken to develop community based forestry programmes are the blueprint for future developments.

The country is unlikely to be able to complete all these tasks in isolation. It is thus imperative that expert assistance is sought to complement the work of internal agencies. The issue of sustainable forest management is not one that the Philippines must face alone. It is indeed an issue of international importance. To find satisfactory solutions to the complex problems being faced requires a spirit of cooperation, assistance and collaboration.

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