There is much to say when it comes to the issue of forest management, i.e., its protection and conservation, in the Philippines. So much had changed since the year when Presidential Decree 705 or the “Forestry Reform Code” was enacted.
The role of the government from then, and until now was seen to be less centralized and more participatory when it comes to forest management. But whether or not these efforts and initiatives are instrumental to sustainable forest management is still arguable. As the community and the public to that extent becomes more involved, and as we continue to change the social and political landscape of this nation, it becomes imperative that we continue to appraise and evaluate our situation as often as possible.
The Reality of Forest Management in the Philippines
In 2001, Ben Malayang III noted in his article “The Changing Role of Government in Forest Protection”, that only one percent (1%) of the causes of forest losses come from illegal logging. Though the author clearly emphasized the discrepancies to the data, there is still much to discuss.
The data we have here in Palawan could be used to claim wholesomely that illegal logging, especially those of premium wood species, constitute a significant percentage of events that contribute to diminishing forest resources. The cases of illegal logging in the province do encompass not only those operating on the large scale but also those small-scale illegal loggers. This practice was evident with the apprehension of thousands of board feet of Narra, Ipil and Kamagong in a resort in Culion, Palawan last 2015.
Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force
To solve the issue on continued illegal logging in the province, a multi-partite Anti-illegal Logging Task Force was created. Different government agencies compose the task force, including the Provincial Government of Palawan, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
Once illegal loggers are apprehended, the enforcers from the different enforcement agencies face another problem when it comes to filing of cases and prosecution in court. Most of the time, apprehensions lack substantial evidence and legal instrument. This shortcoming results in a weak prosecution of cases that often leads to dismissal.
Furthermore, several other causes aggravate illegal logging such as kaingin (swidden agriculture) and land use conversion. It goes to show that there are still much to do when it comes to enforcement of forest-related laws and ordinances.
The Local Government Code as a Tool for Forest Management
The ratification of the Local Government Code (LGC) in 1991 augmented the changing role of the government and the community towards forest management. Selected provisions of LGC mandated the central government to devolve some of its powers to the local government units.
The law would have been beneficial to the larger population. However, such powers and authority were not appropriately complemented with corresponding funds and machinery – causing the LGUs and the local leaders to fall short in monitoring and implementation. This weakness led to the involvement of private groups.
The extent of responsibility and the volume of work of the government are not well-complemented by its existing resources. Thus, the government has to find ways to reinforce limitations by involving private groups to partake not only in the decision-making process but also in the implementation and operational phases of certain projects.
Nevertheless, as more players and entities become more involved, the more complex the political spectrum becomes. It becomes harder to impose the provisions of relevant laws since more interests are being brought into the process.
The Role of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) in Forest Management
Another issue is the lack of legal bases as to the regulation of the use of forest lands and resources among the indigenous groups. At present, we have the IPRA Law which safeguards the interests of the indigenous people in place of national laws. We need to respect the laws of the land without necessarily displacing and robbing our fellow indigenous communities of their rights. It is only necessary that we harmonize these laws with one another.
In the end, it is also our responsibility to offer our services towards achieving common grounds in managing our forest resources. Sustainable development cannot be achieved alone. People participation, effort, and cooperation are needed for us to build a better nation.