The centralized governance system of the environment and natural resources sector has largely contributed to the weak management of forest resources in the Philippines. Despite decentralization reforms in forest management, the management of resources in the Philippines is still highly centralized and most of the power is retained at the central government.
In 2016, the President urged for a shift in government system, from unitary to a federal form of government. His proposal towards a federal form of government will give sub-national units more autonomy and power to pursue local development including the sustainable use of its natural resources. The territorial management of forests under a federal government can be instrumental in reducing conflicts over the use of forest resources, and the allocation of resulting benefits and costs among institutions and local people.
Functions and responsibilities for forest governance in the country are both assigned at national and local levels of government. While the LGC devolved certain forestry functions to the LGUs, the central government through the DENR still holds much of the powers in the development and management of forest resources.
DENR and local government units are mandated to carry out forestry management functions under various ENR laws and the LGC. However, the presence of multiple actors and stakeholders involved in forest administration has contributed to the overlapping of functions and conflicting positions with and within the levels of government. These issues hinder the effective delivery of forestry functions from the national and local governments. Hence, institutional reforms are needed to address these challenges to improve forest governance in the country.
Federalism promotes clear assignment of functions to different levels of government. Federalism also emphasizes greater local autonomy and territorial development. Forest administration under territorial development approach is likely seen to improve governance in the forestry sector. In this context, the experience of federal countries in administering forest resources is particularly valuable in drawing up an indicative structure for forest governance in the Philippines under a federal system.
However, the transition towards a federal system of government does not guarantee the efficient management of forest resources in the Philippines. Enabling conditions are also critical in establishing a strong governance framework for the forestry sector.