The World Bank/WBI’s CBNRM Initiative

Case Received: February 4, 1998

Author: Colleen Miguel

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Palawan is one of the largest provinces in the Philippines. Composed of a long (450 kms) and narrow main island (1.2 m ha) and 1,768 islands and islets, it is situated west of the Visayas regions, between the South China and Sulu Seas. Palawan's unspoiled natural resources gave it the distinction of being the country's last "ecological frontier". The noticeable green lush vegetation, thick forest cover and rich marine resources are what initially attract a first time visitor. Several mineral deposits have been discovered.

Palawan Before

For many decades, Palawan had been relegated to the backwaters of development. One of the principal obstacles to the Provinces' progress was the country's centralised form of government heightened during the Martial Law years. All issues, even of local concern, were resolved in the executive or national level. Officials outside the national capital were relatively powerless.

A perfect example was that logging permits or licenses were issued by the Manila-based Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), even without local consultations. The Provincial Government and concerned communities only came to know of an approved and issued Timber License Agreement (TLA) when a successful holder arrived in Palawan.

As the Province continued to be isolated from the other parts of the country, the country's economy worsened. Palawan's once pristine forests were exploited, legally and illegally. Due to its undemanding nature, "slash and burn" farming was practiced by the indigenous people and later by the ever increasing number of migrants.

Early Initiatives

Historically, the bond between the development of the province and the environmental concerns started with the Palawan Integrated Area Development Project (PIADP). Launched in 1982, PIADP was funded principally through a $47 M loan from the Asian Development Bank. Along with infrastructure, agricultural intensification, health and social services, and irrigation components, an Integrated Environmental Program (IEP) component was implemented, financed through a grant from the then European Economic Community (EEC).

By 1983, through the IEP, comprehensive investigation of Palawan’s natural resources and the potential impacts of development activities and projects were conducted. This resulted in the drafting of an Integrated Environmental Plan for mainland Palawan. Towards the end of 1987, after several consultations, the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Towards Sustainable Development was formulated. It was the first of its kind in the Philippines.

Realising the need to have strong enforcement of the Plan, the two Congressmen of the Province filed the SEP in the Philippine Congress. Consequently, on June 19, 1992 Republic Act 7611 popularly known as Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan was signed into law, by then President Corazon Aquino.


Republic Act 7611 states that the SEP is a comprehensive framework for the sustainable development of Palawan, compatible with protecting and enhancing the natural resources and endangered environment of the Province.

It shall serve as a guide to the local governments and national agencies involved in the formulation and implementation of developmental plans and programmes. As its main philosophy, sustainable development is defined by the SEP Act as "the improvement in the quality of life of its people in the present and future generations." This improvement shall be achieved through the complementary activities of development and conservation that will protect the ecosystems and rehabilitate exploited areas.

The SEP outlines the following: ecological viability, the physical and biological cycles that maintain the productivity of natural ecosystems must always be kept intact; social acceptability, the people themselves, through participatory processes, should be fully committed to support sustainable development activities by fostering equity in access to resources and the benefits derived from them; and integrated approach, which allows for a holistic view of problems and issues obtaining in the environment as well as opportunities for coordination and sharing that will eventually provide the resources and political will to implement and sustain SEP activities.

Through the SEP, an Environmentally Critical Areas Network (ECAN) was to be established. It is a graded system of protection and development control. Terrestrial and marine areas were allocated into a core zone or "no touch" with maximum protection and free of human disruption, a buffer zone with a restricted area wherein limited extractive activities may be allowed and controlled use area where logging and mining may be allowed, and a multiple use areas where intensive agriculture, fisheries and industrialisation may be undertaken and settlements and urbanisation may take place. The ECAN also recognises the tribal ancestral lands which may encompass these zones.

The governance, implementation and policy direction of the SEP are exercised by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD). The Council, created under the Office of the President, is composed of Members of the House of Representatives representing Palawan, Deputy Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority, Undersecretaries of DENR and the Department of Agriculture, the Governor of Palawan, the Mayor of Puerto Princesa City, the Executive Director of PCSD Staff, and other representatives from the public and private sectors, indigenous communities and Government Organisations (GOB) and NGOs.

The Council shall: formulate plans and policies necessary to carry out the provisions stated in RA 7611; ensure proper co-ordination with the local governments, government and private agencies or organisations in formulating and implementing their plans to conform with those of the SEP; and negotiate for, donations, grants, gifts, loans and other funding from domestic and foreign sources to carry out the activities and fulfill the objectives of the SEP.

The Local Government Code

Almost simultaneous with the SEP was the adoption of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991, which came into force in January 1992. The Code covers the whole country. It is an Act to devolve authority so that "territorial and political subdivisions of the State shall enjoy genuine and meaningful local autonomy to enable them to attain their fullest development as self-reliant communities and make them more effective development partners". A structural system of decentralisation was instituted whereby local government units (provincial and municipal) were given more powers, authority, responsibilities and resources. The process (decentralisation) shall proceed from the national government (departments) to the local government units and the rate of devolution may vary.

Considering the former centralised structure of government, the LGC and SEP (for Palawan) significantly provided greater opportunities and initiatives for the local government units and local communities in promoting institutional and resource management. Both encourage a national-local and multi-agency interaction in governance and policy formulation and implementation.

The Palawan Tropical Forestry Programme

In its quest for greater protection and conservation of Palawan's remaining forests, a Financing Memorandum was signed in 1995 by the Philippine Government with the European Union providing a grant (17 Million ECU) for the Palawan Tropical Forestry Protection Programme (PTFPP). A seven-year project, through the PCSD Staff, the Programme, which operates within the framework of the SEP, was to assist in the preservation of forests in Palawan through an area-based approach, with emphasis on a sustainable development strategy implemented by the communities.

As a community-based Programme, it recognises the role of the local government units (LGUs), in ensuring, participation (of the community) and sustainability. To empower the upland communities and enable them to protect the forests, the Programme signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the LGUs covered within the priority areas. This collaboration greatly contributed to the active participation of the population.

At the city/municipal level, the respective LGUs have each designated an official who is the contact person or coordinator of PTFPPs field staff and acts as overall coordinator, on behalf of the local chief executive. They are variously called Environment and Sustainable Development Officer (ESDO), or Municipal Environmental Officer (MEO), or an Environment and Natural Resources Officer (ENRO). The Programme made an effort in assisting the municipalities in the establishment of Environmental Offices, a non-existent unit within LGU before PTFPP, although optional under the LGC. To some extent, the Programme tapped the services of the local NGOs in approaching communities, conducting consultations, training and workshops, among others.

The Programme is actively involved in assisting the LGUs in formulating their respective Integrated Watershed Management Plans. This initiative was the result of a joint effort to sustain the productive capacity of the communities within the different watersheds. The Plan shall serve as a guide in harmonizing the various uses of the watershed and in designing management strategies that would promote sustainable development within and outside the watershed.

The Programme collaborates with the communities, through the Environmental Officer, in a micro-project level. All projects (identified by the communities themselves) are designed to be sustainable. This approach develops community confidence, skills and cohesion to enable them to take charge of their own development . In addition, it enables them to carry out their chosen livelihood activities and make a living within a free market system with minimal external dependence. Categorically, this has been proven effective and potentially sustainable, with almost two hundred (200) micro-projects. These projects include agriculture and livelihood enterprises, training and workshops, study tours, and agro-forestry nursery establishments. By stabilising their agriculture and livelihood activities, the communities decrease their pressure on the forests.

The community counterpart associated with all micro-projects is central to maximising the potential for sustainability. It conveys ownership of the project by the community participants themselves rather than by the PTFPP. In addition, counterparting provides some measure of real community interest in the project. For example, if they provide the labor themselves or pay for a commodity, they endorse whether a livelihood opportunity is worth considering. This, in a way, serves as a mirror for the Programme to gauge if it addresses the essential needs of the community or not. Furthermore, as practical "hands on" training is provided and because the community members themselves provide all the work, they learn and develop the skills needed in order to sustain the project.

In order to enhance the possibility of the forest protection being sustained beyond the period of the Programme, significant emphasis on the community's participation in forest resource management through more secured land is essential. With these, it is envisioned that communities and institutions (LGUs) would be able to pursue community development initiatives. This initiative will eventually enhance the proper management of natural resources, especially the forests.

One avenue is the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC), a recognition of the indigenous people’s claim to a defined land area. Another is the Community-Based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA), a similar instrument applicable in situations where the forest dwellers cannot make claim to ancestral rights. Through these the forest communities are seen to manage a tract of indigenous forest land under a management plan authorised by DENR. Another initiative is Integrated Social Forestry (ISF), under which some farmers who practiced "slash and burn" are given stewardship contracts (25 years renewable) on condition that they reforest the area and will not expand. When in place, these instruments and arrangements are likely to be sustainable.

Lessons Learned

The establishment of SEP gave not only aspirations among Palaweños, but also inspiration among environmentally conscious Filipinos in preserving the country's last "ecological frontier". Being "unique", the adoption of the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan has paved the way to educating the Palaweños through the lessons derived and learned.

Primarily, the devolution of authority from central departments provided better opportunities for the LGUs to initiate community-based resource management. The LGC and the SEP, provided these opportunities.

Secondly, the commitment and capability of the LGUs to take control over local concerns/issues and carry out effective and sustainable measures, necessitates institutional strengthening. Though one could understand the LGU's eagerness to govern, this was not supplemented by a full understanding of what was involved, nor by the skills, technical expertise nor by resources required.

The SEP provided opportunities to the communities to use wisely and manage properly their resources. It recognized the potential of the community as partners in sustainable development. Relevant to this is the capability of the community to cope with the various responsibilities of managing the resources. This cannot be done without enhancing their capability through training and information campaigns in whatever form is essential.

Thirdly, the role of funding agencies must be examined. A large part of the implementation of the SEP depends on the normal functions of the LGUs and related departments or agencies. The realisation of the SEP lies also in the full co-operation of all local and national agencies operating in Palawan and importantly, the involvement of its population. This effort can be strengthened in many ways by outside funding or support: assistance by further education, training and research, and technical assistance. However, it should be emphasised that external support is no substitute for improved local competence in implementing the plan.

Lastly, considering the scope and authority vested in the SEP and the Council, there is seemingly an inadequate appreciation on the part of the concerned National Agencies of the basic functions, aims and purposes of the SEP and the Council. Resistance from these agencies could be explained by the fact that these agencies are for the first time confronted with an "exceptional case", an aggressive PCSD which is an area-focused agency yet essentially "national" in authority. Better education of these agencies is needed to ensure a mutually supportive approach to these issues.

The PTFPP hopes to promote community development approaches and programmes where activities and projects are owned by the communities and institutions and not by PTFPP alone. The final challenge is that the communities and institutions (i.e. LGUs) should be able to pursue community resource management initiatives, even after the Programme ends. The local autonomy being experiences by the LGUs, should enable them to develop as self-reliant communities and effective development partners. Sustainability, therefore, is the keynote of PTFPPs efforts.