Forests are important ecosystems that serve as habitats for many terrestrial species and provide vital resources for social, environmental and economic wellbeing in the country . According to the 2014 Philippine Statistical Yearbook, in 2013, the forestry sector contributed PhP5.26 billion (0.12%) to GDP . Perhaps, more importantly, forests sequester carbon and serve as a natural defence and protection against disasters brought about by landslides and storm surges. It is estimated that the Philippines has 664 million metric tons of carbon stocks in living forest biomass and that, in 2011, the country’s forests sequestered 1.3% of the Philippines’ greenhouse gas emissions. Forests are among the most valuable natural resources in the Philippines, providing a variety of goods and ecosystems services such as food, water, wood, recreation, livelihood, and climate regulation . According to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), forests also serve as home to some 12-15 million indigenous peoples and provide livelihood to many families .
Despite the importance of forests, the Philippines has lost almost 93% of original forest cover since the 1900s. Between 1934 and 1990, the country lost 10.9 million ha of forest cover. Over the last 100 years, the deforestation rates in the country have fluctuated .
Through the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), national land cover mapping was conducted using various satellite imageries for the years, 2003, 2010 and 2015 . According to the Philippines’ Fifth National Report to the CBD, between 2003 and 2010, open forest cover and mangrove cover increased in the country, while closed forest cover decreased, indicating that the country’s forests continued to be threatened by human activities, including both legal and illegal logging, forest fires and slash and burn agriculture . It is worth noting, prior to 2011, the Philippine government allowed the harvesting of trees in the natural and residual forests of the country .
Based on the 2015 land cover data, the total forest cover of the Philippines was 7,014,156 hectares or 23.4% of the country’s total area. Meaning that total forest cover had increased by 174,438 hectares, from 6,839,718 hectares in 2010 to 7,014,156 hectares in 2015. Out of the total forest area in 2015, 2.03 million hectares (28.9%) was closed forest (with canopy coverage of more than 40%); 4.68 million hectares (66.8%) was open forest (with canopy coverage of 10-40%); and 0.3 million hectares (4.3%) was mangrove forest. Since 2010, an increase in both closed and open forests had been observed while there was a slight decrease in mangrove forest . This overall increase within forestland may be attributed to the implementation of the country’s National Greening Program (NGP) . Despite this, between 2001 and 2020, the Global Forest Watch reports that the Philippines lost 1.29 million ha of tree cover, equivalent to a 6.9% decrease in tree cover since 2000 .
The country’s forests continue to face threats, including logging (legal and illegal), land use conversion, kaingin or slash and-burn cultivation, forest fires, and other natural phenomena such as pests and diseases and natural disasters , . Pressures from population growth are also expected to increase the demand for forest resources such as fuelwood, wood, major and minor forest products, to meet domestic needs and livelihoods of communities. The increase in fuel prices in the country is also likewise expected to increase demand, particularly for fuelwood .
Key policies and governance approach
The Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines (P.D 705) was approved in 1975 and became the blueprint for forest management in the country. It lays down the basic principles of forest management and conservation, and makes provision for proper classification, management, and utilization of public domain lands to maximize their productivity and meet the demands of the country’s increasing population. It also covers the management of industrial tree plantations, tree farms, and agro-forestry farms, and forest protection of swamplands and mangrove forests .
In 2011, the President of the Philippines issued the Executive Order No. 23 "Declaring a Moratorium on the Cutting and harvesting of Timber in the Natural and Residual Forests and Creating the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force" , which bans cutting and harvesting in natural and residual forests throughout the country. It also provides for the implementation of a forest certification system in accordance with UN standards and a convergence program with other national agencies and the private sector to increase awareness, improve livelihoods, and mobilize forest resources .
Additionally, Executive Order No. 26 was issued implementing the National Greening Program . The National Greening Program (NGP) is the government’s main strategy for reforestation, aimed at planting 1.5 billion trees covering 1,500,000 hectares of public lands from 2011 to 2015. In 2016, the coverage of the NGP was expanded through Executive Order No. 193 to include reforestation of the remaining 7.1 million hectares of unproductive, denuded and degraded forestlands nationwide from 2016 to 2028 .
Taking into consideration the potential impacts of climate change to the forestry sector, the Philippine Master Plan for Climate-Resilient Forestry Development (PMPCRFD) 2015-2028 proposes programs and strategies to (i) strengthen resilience of forest ecosystems and communities to climate change; (ii) effectively respond to demands for forest ecosystems goods and services; and (iii) promote responsive governance . Net carbon benefits from avoided deforestation and new plantations as a result of the implementation of the PMPCRFD is estimated as 302,278,878 million tons .
Successes and remaining challenges
According to the Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2022, the forestry sector growth has experienced significant declines. Forestry Gross Value Added (GVA) dipped from 36.7% in 2013 to 4.9% in 2014 and further slipped to -26.7% in 2015. This can be attributed to the issuance of Executive Order No. 23, s. 2011. However, EO 23, s. 2011 should be seen as an investment in ensuring the protection of forests and in preserving the various ecological services they provide to the people .
The Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, approved in 1975, is still in effect and has not been updated, revised, or further improved in 45 years. As a result, the forestry sector still faces many long-standing challenges, including illegal logging, land conversion, and slash and burn practices. Further, a major challenge that remains, according to stakeholders, is the lack of sufficient resources for the routine monitoring and management of the country’s forested and reforested areas .
Nevertheless, local communities are enhancing their forest protection campaigns to increase community awareness and encourage the collaboration of local government units to improve forest protection initiatives. Additionally, the National Greening Program (NGP), the government’s main strategy for reforestation, successfully reforested over 1.8 million hectares and accomplished more than 100% of its target area between 2011 and 2017 .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Major relevant programmes and projects in the country include the Enhanced National Greening Program, Forestland Management Project, Integrated Natural Resources and Environmental Management Project, Biodiversity & Watershed Improved for Stronger Economy and Ecosystem Resilience (B+WISER), and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).
In 2014, the Philippine government included the Mangrove and Beach Forest Development Project (MBFDP) as a component program under the National Greening Program (NGP). This is in recognition of the important role of mangrove and beach forests as natural defences against storm surges and as protection to coastal communities, following the devastation brought by Super Typhoon Haiyan to the Visayas region in 2013. Stakeholders from local government units (LGU), civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector participated in the implementation of the MBFDP in disaster-affected areas. This Project also emphasized the importance of mapping and collecting baseline data in target sites as basis for future impact assessments. A total of 50,000 hectares of mangroves and beach forests are targeted for development, planting, and enrichment .
Goals and Ambitions
For the expanded National Greening Programme, the country’s priority activities include: (i) rehabilitation of 1.2 million ha of denuded forest lands by 2022; and (ii) maintenance and protection of existing forests.
- A continuous effort to document all forest areas in the country will serve as baseline data for conservation and management.
- Improve policies for the forestry sector and enhance enforcement of existing policies.
- Explore the ways different entities can manage and acquire forest resources, and by doing so develop more comprehensive and sustainable practices for the management of the forest land.
- Provision of incentives to forest maintenance .
 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (2019). Sixth National Report Published on the Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity. [Online]. Available: https://chm.cbd.int/database/record?documentID=243371.
 Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). (2016). Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2015-2028): Bringing Resilience to Filipino Communities. C. Cabrido (Ed.). Quezon City, Philippines: BMB-DENR, United Nations Development Programme – Global Environment Facility, Foundation for the Philippine Environment.
 Global Forest Watch (2021). [Online]. Available: www.globalforestwatch.org/dashboards/country/PHL.