The Philippines case examines the results of a shift in government policy from a system in which forest resource rights were granted to large-scale industry to one where rights were transferred to community organisations to carry out forest management. In this case, the co-management system is undercut because the standard regulations are burdensome, are not adjusted to the different levels of capacity of community organisations, and are not accompanied with sufficient support to aid fledgling community management groups.
Forestland in the Philippines is owned by the state and the main agency responsible for its administration and management is the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In 1989, the DENR established a community forestry programme to provide qualified community organisations with forest management agreements granted for periods of 25 years, renewable for another 25. In 1995, the government shifted the national forestry strategy to prioritise the community-based forest management program (Pulhin and Ramirez 2008). The government granted community-level organisations the right to occupy and manage certain forests and forestlands that previously had been held by industry.
One such organisation was the Ngan Panansalan Pagsabangan Forest Resources Development Cooperative located on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao (Pulhin and Dressler 2009). This cooperative manages the second-largest community-based forest management project in the Philippines. The cooperative’s forest had been formerly licensed to a timber company, Valderrama Lumber, but the company’s licensing agreement had expired in 1994. Concerned that the forest would become an open access area, without strong community organisation to channel local use and benefits from forests, the DENR, with support from the United States Agency for International Development, introduced in 1995 the idea of forming a cooperative (Pulhin and Ramirez 2008). A proposal was presented to local governments within the former concession area. Although members of the Mansaka-Mandaya indigenous people were initially hesitant, they eventually embraced the idea. Migrant workers who had been employed by the company were also allowed to become cooperative members. The cooperative was formed and registered with the government in 1996. Later that same year, it was awarded a management agreement covering 14,800 ha of forestland outside the towns of Compostela and New Bataan. Of the cooperative’s 324 members, former migrants make up 60 per cent of the membership and local Mansaka-Mandaya indigenous people the rest (Pulhin and Ramirez 2008).
Under community-based forest management, the cooperative is allowed to extract timber, provided it develops a management plan, prepares a medium-term plan projecting the timber volume to be harvested over five years, and applies for an annual resource use permit. However, the permit application process is tedious and entails high transaction costs-approval can easily take more than six months and costs almost USD 5,000 (Pulhin and Dressler 2009).
The cooperative has basically the same rights formerly held by the company, but lacks the same political and economic power to exert influence on the government bureaucracy. In practice, the situation is more contentious. Although community forestry was a government priority, the state’s bureaucracy was unprepared for the paradigm shift and most of its old staff has had a hard time embracing its new function (Pulhin and Ramirez 2008). Decision-making has remained centralised. Moreover, policies emanating from the national government tend to restrict rather than assist the cooperative.
The systems described by Pulhin and Dressler (2009) do not facilitate community operations. Despite the long and costly process of developing a management plan to request resource use permits, the permits are valid for only one year, counted from the end of the previous one. Because of such delays, an approved permit could end up being valid for only six months by the time it is received by the cooperative. In addition, three times between 1998 and 2006 the DENR issued national suspensions of resource use permits based on the allegations of non-compliance or violations by community organisations. The suspensions were applied uniformly even to well-run community organisations. Even though the Ngan Panansalan Pagsabangan Forest Resources Development Cooperative held Smartwood certification, its permits were suspended along with all the others. Furthermore, the DENR did not take into account the suspensions and delays to adjust the cooperative’s development targets in the management plan, placing greater pressure on the cooperative.
The cooperative lacked the power and influence of the logging company and now had to contend with several other groups that claim rights to the cooperative’s forest management area, including the military and the New People’s Army, a rebel group that considers the forest its base. From time to time, the cooperative must negotiate with the military, the rebel group, and the DENR, just to secure the safe passage of timber and to avoid delays in transportation. Because the cooperative does not have the money to hire security guards, illegal loggers have been drawn to the site especially during the period when resource use permits were cancelled. These loggers harass the cooperative’s staff, and in some instances have used threats of violence to intimidate the cooperative.
Although the Philippine’s national forest policy is purportedly intended to promote community management, in practice the actions of government agencies undercut or limit benefits of these programs. Rights were shifted from industry to prioritise community-level groups but insufficient efforts were made to accommodate the community capacities. Overall, in the case of the Ngan Panansalan Pagsabangan Forest Resources Development Cooperative, the suspensions and conflicts have eroded community members’ motivation and commitment to protect and manage their forests (Guiang and Castillo 2007).