This is the third in a series of guest contributions focussed on sharing local experiences from around the world in developing and implementing safeguards in REDD+. The series features contributions from Central America, East Africa and Asia-Pacific. In this blog Marlea Muñez highlights the gaps between safeguards policy and practice and the complexities of who should be responsible for implementing them properly.
In a country like the Philippines, where the present government leadership talks about serving the people as the their ‘boss’ and running a transparent government, matters like ‘safeguards’ should mean something, but there is also plenty of reason to believe they might also be undermined.
A promising start
It was in December 2010 in Cancun that the Philippines introduced the Philippine National REDD-Plus Strategy (PNRPS), and has been referring to ‘REDD-plus beyond carbon’ – with social, community, biodiversity and governance aspects of REDD-plus as equally important as the carbon objectives. From there, the critical engagement with CSOs through CoDe REDD Philippines and the department of environment and natural resources (DENR), through the Forest Management Bureau, further developed – from drafting the PNRPS to coming up with corresponding policy measures and demonstration activities on REDD+.
The PNRPS clearly stated that safeguards means ensuring that REDD-plus policies and projects protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and that these peoples will have meaningful engagement in designing and implementing REDD-plus. While these national aspirations go further than the international commitments described in the Long Term Cooperative Action text under UNFCCC, the Philippines faces tough challenges in translating these ambitions into actions. It is easier said than done as they say.
Recognised as an established democracy, the Philippines shifted its emphasis of forest management policy from a government-corporate run scheme to community-based forest management (CBFM) in 1995. With collaborative working established between government and non-government organisations, the Philippines formulated the Philippine CBFM Strategic Plan for 2008-2017, to support sustainable forest management (SFM), which substantially fed into the PNRPS. Hence, chronologically, the CBFM Strategic Plan and PNRPS indicated 2017 as having set up the CBFM in full swing, thus opportune time for the local community engagement phase of the PNRPS.
Will this happen at all?
I am afraid not with the current conditions. The government budget allocated for CBFM was never adequate, and yet was substantially reduced between 2008 and 2011. Then in February 2011, without consultation with CBFM communities or Indigenous Peoples, an indefinite moratorium on cutting and harvesting of timber in natural and residual forests was imposed, a repetition of an event in 2004. Following the 2004 moratorium there was a unilateral cancelation of all community-based forest management agreements, prompting the CBFM peoples’ organisations to appeal – having invested time and resources into the forests they were now deprived of the opportunity to bring in income and support their livelihoods. DENR responded to the appeals but unfortunately missed the point that there should be consistency with policies and implementation. All cutting permits now have to be submitted to the central office of DENR for clearance! This is despite the fact that there are community plans duly approved by DENR in the first place.
The 2011 moratorium was followed by announcement of the National Greening Program (NGP), implementation of which started with complete disregard to previous reforestation programs implemented in the country. Forest dependent communities were automatically excluded since their lack of ’legal personality’ was taken against them. How could they sustain their legal personalities if CBFM has not been actually fully supported? When clarifications were sought on the moratorium, DENR originally explained that trees planted by communities will be allowed to be harvested. However, only this April, they suspended the processing of all requests for cutting permits until further notice and reiterated the February moratorium. On NGP, DENR expressed a desire to revise their guidelines, a very costly exercise when in fact lessons were already known from previous reforestation programs. Whether communities will be consulted on the new guidelines is yet to be seen.
These are only some examples of conflicting policies within the forestry sector that undermine safeguards, and subsequently sustainable development. These issues are mirrored in the mining sector, allowed in practically all areas in the country. Yes, there was a set of guidelines on free and prior informed consent (FPIC), revised recently, but the million-dollar-question is whether the communities are provided with adequate support to fully engage in the FPIC process and whether the facilitators of such processes are fully equipped with the skills and knowledge needed. The fact that mining operations are currently happening in prohibited areas shows how such activities easily sit outside of the laws, let alone guidelines and policy recommendations. In an effort to react to these concerns on mining, the government has just issued a new Executive Order on mining which may appear to have expressed control on where mining operations should be, but undermines local governance and processes.
Where does responsibility lie?
Governance-wise, two major national agencies of government, DENR and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) are overseeing forestlands and ancestral domains where the remaining forests are. DENR under its mandate has the CBFM Strategy and the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS). NCIP is responsible for the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). In addition Philippines has local government units with specific powers relating to education, health, water supply and some natural resources management.
Given these, REDD-plus related policy studies have been initiated by DENR/BMU-GIZ project and CoDe REDD Philippines, namely: Analysis of Forest Policy, Clarifying Carbon Rights, Assessment of FPIC implementation and Analysis of Key Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation. The UN-REDD Programme will also support the drafting of the REDD-plus Safeguards framework and guidelines. With this, will the Philippines be able to come up with its REDD-plus Safeguards framework and guidelines? Again, I am afraid not under the current conditions.
It is obvious that Philippines has more than enough laws and guidelines in place. These BMU-GIZ policy studies, though not yet published, have actually already informed REDD-plus readiness phases in the country. Readiness projects are in place and there could be more. What is wrong then? How can safeguards be put on the table? Maybe, there is lack of coherence and connectivity in various undertakings and primarily, there is a need for leadership in the environment and natural resource sector.
Marlea Muñez is an independent consultant