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Back | Programme Area: Environment, Sustainable Development and Social Change

Opposition and Resistance to Forest Protection Initiatives in the Philippines: The Role of Local Stakeholders

International concern that forest conservation programmes and projects are not achieving their objectives has been increasing in recent years. Explanations of “project failure” often focus on technical constraints associated with finance, administration and “know-how”. Far less attention has generally been paid to institutional, social or political aspects that influence both the orientation and performance of conservation initiatives. Participatory or community-based approaches to forest protection, which have gained in influence in recent years, have moved some way towards overcoming these limitations by adopting a more integrated approach to forest protection. Nevertheless, their proponents have often ignored many of the pitfalls and tensions that beset “people-centred conservation”.

In this paper Howie Severino examines how the implementation of environmental protection initiatives can be undermined by the responses of local “stakeholders” whose interests and livelihoods are affected by specific forest protection programmes and projects. Following a brief assessment of attempts by the government of the Philippines to reverse forest destruction and promote community-based forestry, the author presents four case studies which focus on very different types of forest protection initiatives and sets of actors. They include large commercial interests which use political and bureaucratic connections to subvert government attempts to curb unsustainable logging and conserve watersheds; NGOs that do not have the necessary community organizing skills; and grassroots organizations that lack cohesion and external support. The author also shows how institutional reforms associated with decentralization can undermine environmental programmes in contexts where, for example, local authorities attach relatively little importance to conservation and waste human and other resources that have been devolved for forest protection.

Beyond analysing the politics of project failure, Howie Severino identifies key factors that have served to counter these negative experiences. He stresses, in particular, the importance of strong grassroots leadership and external support for people’s organizations; sensitive approaches to community organizing on the part of NGOs; lobbying key people in executive or legislative positions of power; exposure of malpractice in the media; and the formation of broad-based alliances that link local and national actors.

This paper was commissioned for a workshop on “Social and Political Dimensions of Environmental Protection” that was organized jointly by UNRISD and the Institute of Environmental Science and Management (IESAM) of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños. Held in April 1996, the workshop formed part of an UNRISD research project of the same name which involved case studies in Costa Rica, the Philippines and Senegal.

Given the sensitive nature of some of the issues, and the difficulty of researching situations involving conflict, corruption and malpractice, UNRISD decided to engage the talents not only of university scholars but also of investigative journalists with academic backgrounds and extensive experience in the environmental field. Until recently, Howie Severino co-ordinated the Environment Desk at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. He has written numerous newspaper and scholarly articles on environmental politics in the Philippines and is currently a reporter for The Probe Team, an investigative news programme on Philippine television.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 May 1998
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD