Course:FRST370/Projects/Rainforestation in the Eastern Visayas, Philippines; Managing climate change mitigation with local participation

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Widespread deforestation across the Philippines has been accompanied by extreme poverty, fortification for natural disasters, and rampant corruption of the nation’s political and administrative system. Understandings of the failures and successes of the community forestry experienced in the Eastern Visayas are crucial for planning sustainable participatory forestry initiatives in the larger Philippine context. “Rainforestation” defines a modern DENR approach, initiated in 1996, to reforesting denuded landscapes by planting seed and seedling mixes of high-value native species, thus mimicking the composition of a natural lowland dipterocarp forest.

The emphasis of this case study is the decentralization of land holdings and acknowledgement of community agroforestry practices in the Eastern Visayas, and will employ a diagnostic focus on the 2016 Cienda San-Vicente case study by Consuji et al. to pull recommendations for future forestry operations in the southern Philippines.

History and background

A map delineating political administrative regions’ map; Leyte island is visible in red. The Eastern Visayas are not labeled, but consist of the rightmost clump of 3 larger islands in the center of the Visayas; Leyte, Samar, and Biliran. All island regions above the Visayas fall into the “Luzon” group, and the regions and islands below the circled group are called the Minandao group.   

The highly fragmented Philippine nation is the amalgamation of over 7500 individual volcanic and limestone rock islands, which are split into three main groupings, the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao regions (Taylor et al. 2015; see Figure 1). These jurisdictions are further divided to form seventeen regions of national political jurisdiction.  

Leyte also has the highest proportion of timberland to total forest area, where two fifths of its farm parcels are planted with permanent crops, like those harvested for timberwood (NSO 2004). While the whole country is impoverished at a rate of 17%, Leyte has about a 30% occurrence of poverty (Eleazar et al. 2012, USAID 2017). In contrast, Manila and its two neighboring provinces are responsible for 60% of the country’s output and hold around 65% of the population, thanks in part to its booming BPO-IT industry. There are very few urban jobs in Leyte—the whole of Region 8 contains only one highly urbanized city, Tacloban city, that can serve as an administrative centre for forestry operations—and a third of the country relies on fishing or farming for livelihood (National Economic and Development Authority 2017).

Previous literature cannot overestimate the role played by ancient geographies in the problems faced by the Philippines today. In terms of growth, real per-capita GDP in 2000 in the Philippines was on the same level as in 1980 and has, since the 1950s, been overtaken by South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and China (National Statistics Office 2004).

Tenure arrangements

The extraction of wood and timber resources from natural forests was banned in 2010, since these are thought to make up just 22 percent of the nation’s total forest cover (Laarman et al. 1995). The consistently high rates of industrial forest production meant the Philippines went from being a net exporter to importer of timber (Cedamon 2010).

Today, the CBFM structure in Philippine law is considered progressive for its community-based approach to land tenure and resource rights. However, while the bundle of rights granted to the People’s Organization includes resource use and exclusive land ownership, the security of these rights is tenuous. There have been multiple periods of logging bans forbidding timber extraction in 1989, 2006, and 2011 (Pulhin et al. 2007). In 2006, the DENR Secretary cancelled all existing CBFMAs across 8 regions, including 1-4B, 5-9, and 13 allegedly due to non-compliance (Harrison et al. 2004, Pulhin & Ramirez 2016, & Remigio 1993). Close analysis of smaller forestry and agroforestry-dependent communities often found that driving factors for the low frequencies of CBFMA registration.

Administrative arrangements

This formalized framework gives communities a legal opportunity, at least in the eyes of the DENR, to secure authority over local resources. Unfortunately, while it has extended the bundle of de jure rights and responsibilities to LGUs, in practice, local administrators have limited opportunity to exercise authority and provide feedback or regional expertise.

Kaingin is a Tagalog word that refers the practice of swidden agriculture, or shifting cultivation, as employed by rural upland farmers in the Philippines. These people are called kaingineros in the government literature and, in early stages of Filipino environmental policy, were largely blamed for mass deforestation and its related effects (Harrison et al. 2004).

Terms defining the space of administration and registration:

o  CBFMA- Community Based Forest Management Agreement

o  TLA- Timber License Agreements,

o  IFMA- Industrial Forest Management Agreements

o  DENR- The Department of the Environment and Natural Resources. The DENR Secretary is a part of the Presidential Cabinet centered in Manila.

o  LGU-The smallest unit of government of the Philippines is split into three levels; provinces, cities and municipalities, and barangays. These types vary widely

o  CENRO- The Community Environment and Natural Resource Official; they are the officer in charge of the CBFMA

o  PO- People’s Organizations are organizations of associated, affected stakeholders, usually participating in upland forestry, resource extraction, or agricultural production activities.

o  CRMF- The Community Resource Management Framework defines access, use, and protection of resources, as they are consistent regimes across the overall watershed area. It must be formed with the assistance of its Peoples Organization, the DENR, LGU, and/or ‘private entities’ (Pulhin 2016).

o  FWP- Five-Year Work Plan builds upon the CRMF, and details the volume and species of trees to be harvested within the CBFMA.

o  TMO- Timber Management Officer, responsible for proofreading submissions of CTOs.

o  CTO- A Certificate of Timber Origin, filed by the Timber Management Officer monthly based on submissions from People’s organizations or individual smallholders hoping to market their timber.

Affected Stakeholders

Kilim Upland Farmer’s Association (KUFA): The main representative body of upland farmers in San Vicente. The people of this organization are highly dependent on their farms and field production, and had protected the watershed from 1985-88 as a part of their own efforts to combat alternating drought and inundations (Compendio et al. 2017). This unique group maximized their autonomy over their community management area when they approached Visayas State University’s rainforestation research team with “concerns about the site’s degradation due to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and slash-and-burn agriculture” from other locales (Consuji et al. 2016 & Compendio et al. 2017). Although they have very low outright authority over their land, the case study displayed the farmers’ inherent, learned experience-based authority based on their internally-held rights—only they could identify both the naturally occurring and socio-economically desirable species for the VSU research team.

Smallholders: Those members of the organization holding land parcels who would like to harvest surplus forest products from said personal use lots, and to sell as needed to supplement income. Since smallholders lack the recognized organization and socio-economic representation granted by membership of a People’s Organization, they struggle to register, transport, and sell their goods at a reasonable price in city markets.

Illegal timber harvesters: These can be people who don’t know about tree registration regulations, or tree farmers who are unable or unwilling to complete the necessary documentation. These are often more inexperienced farmers than those traditional upland practitioners of ‘intensive’ kaingin , instead applying ‘partial’ kaingin cultivation on lowland slopes (Avela et al. 2011). They have some unacknowledged and unintentional market power—the free availability of illegally harvested wood forces down the going prices of legal smallholder’s round logs (Harrison et al. 2004 & Pulhin & Ramirez 2016).

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Visayas State University- Has helped to provide foresters for the improvement of community-based organization and retention of knowledge. In 2008, VSU partnered with Yale University’s Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative to 

The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ)- formed a joint task force with researchers from Visayas State University to implement the technique, which was centered around closing the canopy and cultivating diverse native plants in the under-canopy vegetation (Peque & Hölscher 2014). The ‘rainforestation’ research program blends technical knowledge drawn from German topological profiling and soil survey methodologies with native’s experience in cultivation of regional species and land areas (Consunji et al. 2016).

DENR Regional office- The provincial or municipal CENRO is the primary representative for the administration of DENR policy, and conducts his business from the DENR Region 8 Office in Tacloban City. These officials are often not well-acquainted with particular local management sites and the systems operating on them, and rely on documentation submitted by POs across their jurisdiction.


Most of the Philippine-sourced demographic data were from the National Statistics authority. However, up-to-date government documents become scare-to-nonexistent as one moves down the chain of authority towards People’s Organizations. The Philippine State either lacks the resources or is unwilling to invest specifically into Region 8 because of its lower economic class and general economic reliance on agricultural cultivation. Since the Eastern Visayas are in the economic second class of the country, the region receives less funding. The majority of the information collected regarding specific sites on Leyte Island is traceable to NGOs, international agencies, or university-based forestry research groups (Cedamon & Emtage 2005, Cedamon et al. 2010, Consuji et al. 2016, Emtage 2003, Gregorio et al. 2008, Harrison et al. 2004, Laarman et al 1995, and Peque & Hölscher 2014)


The regime of State-owned forests in the Philippines contributes to the long-lasting tendencies towards divisive inequality and national fragmentation. Region 8, the Eastern Visayan region has stagnated at particularly low levels of overall development, because of an extremely lucrative market for resource extraction in combination with the tradition of market and political gaming by more influential, usually urban-based participants in the timber supply chain (Atkinson et al. 2011, Cedamon et al. 2011, Laarman et al. 1995, National Economic and Development Authority 2017, NSO 2004, USAID 2017). This leaves smallholder foresters at a disadvantage, for as the demand for timber rises, the moratorium on logging in natural forests keeps individual smallholders from practicing traditional cultivations, and thus subsisting, in Leyte.

The Waray history of the Visayas region, especially on Samar and Leyte, defines a critical difference between their influence and that of the more metropolitan Filipinos of Luzon. The level of inequality in the development of institutions and infrastructure for administration between these areas—the National Capital Region is twice as well-represented as the entire Eastern Visayas—makes systematic measurement and reference to trends nearly impossible (NSO 2004). As tribal groups become more marginalized by development and shifting environmental policies, they also become more drawn to extreme left wing groups like the New People’s Army, which often targets mining sites as a statement against private accumulation of wealth (Remigio 1993).

After the success of the Cienda San-Vicente reforestation efforts, the “rainforestation” approach was endorsed by the DENR as an official reforestation method (Compendio et al. 2017).  Thus, the Cienda San-Vicente Farmer’s Association effectively wielded their local influence and community strength to encourage internal cooperation and form a working FWP with the resources available to them.


The general idea behind community-based agroforestry and resource management programs is that the locals, as those who are most engaged with the environment regularly, will have the patience and connection with the process of adapting plot cultivations to suit local biotic conditions. But while the original case study’s authors remind their readers, “the success at San Vicente could be attributed to the KUFA, who approached the VSU rainforestation team with their own concerns”, the help that foreign technical and fiscal capital inputs provided was instrumental to its success.

In rural, historically underdeveloped regions like Leyte, provincial and even national government validation of ancient, cultural management regimes established a working foundation for successful policy implementation. Thanks to the efforts of VSU and the farmers of Cienda-San Vicente, this diagnostic ‘rainforestation’ site has been adopted by other local organizations, namely the Haribon Foundation, one of the first environmental organizations in the Philippines (Consuji et al. 2016 & Compendio et al. 2017).

When applying modern systems and employees to this task in the future, communication and balanced sharing of responsibility between central and local government units will remain crucial. This will require significantly more provincial funding to allow Leyte to develop local processing operations and accessible transport systems. For the time being, the Haribon Foundation, Visayas State University, and other ‘Rainforestation Organizations and Advocates for Deveopment (ROAD)’ have—with support from the newly established Rain Forest Restoration Initiative (RFRI)— launched the “ROAD to 2020” initiative; a movement to restore one millions hectares of rainforest and soil properties with naturally occurring tree species (Consuji et al. 2016).


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Cedamon, E. D., Harrison, S., Herbohn, J. & Mangaoang, E. (2010). Compiling market and other financial data on smallholder forestry in Leyte, Philippines. Small-scale Forestry 10(2), pp. 149-162.

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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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