Manila, Philippines – The Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) in Bhutan visited Manila under a south-south exchange workshop with the Philippines. Led by Norbu Wangchuk of the Gross National Happiness Commission (Planning), the Bhutan delegation comprised key officials from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, and UNDP Bhutan.
BIOFIN contributes to closing the financing gap for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity by identifying, accessing, combining and sequencing sources of biodiversity funding. It is a global initiative being implemented in 31 countries, including the Philippines and Bhutan. It explores a wide range of finance solutions and provides guidance to countries on how to implement these to achieve national biodiversity targets. In the Philippines’ case, national targets are embodied in the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) 2015-2028.
The delegation had an opportunity to exchange learnings not only with the BIOFIN Philippines team with regards to the implementation of the BIOFIN methodology, but also with the latter’s key government and non-government organization partners. Armida Andres, Chief of the Biodiversity Policy and Knowledge Management Division, and Angelita Meniado, Overall Coordinator of Foreign-Assisted Projects of the Biodiversity Management Bureau, shared with the group how BIOFIN’s work in the Philippines impacts on the government’s policy and planning processes, especially among the bureaus of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Director Helen Habulan of the Department of Finance (DOF) Municipal Development Fund Office (MDFO) gladly shared with Bhutan delegation MDFO’s work with and financial assistance to LGUs in the Philippines. The MDFO, created through Presidential Decree No. 1914, is a special revolving fund for re-lending to Local Government Units (LGUs). It enables LGUs to avail of financial assistance from local and international sources for the implementation of various social and economic development projects, including environment and biodiversity projects.
In addition, John Narag, Chief of the Bilateral Assistance Division under the International Finance Group of DOF, shared with BIOFIN Bhutan its experience in facilitating a debt-for-nature swap between the Philippines and the governments of the United States of America and Italy.
“I have never heard about debt swap before. It is very interesting to see that interest payment for loans are being waived off so that the [debtor country] can spend it for biodiversity and environment conservation works. It is a very good strategy for financing conservation activities which can support both biodiversity and livelihoods,” said Sigyel Delma of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests of Bhutan.
As a result of the debt-for-nature swap between the Philippines and USA, the Forest Foundation for the Philippines (FFP) and Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) were created. Initiated by and established for non-government organizations with support from the World Wildlife Fund, Philippine Development Forum, governments of the Philippines and US, FPE was created. It provides financial assistance to strengthen and support NGOs, peoples’ organizations (PO) and communities to enable them to be agents of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.
Similarly, the Forest Foundation for the Philippines is a non-government organization that provides grants and technical assistance to projects aiming to conserve, maintain or restore tropical forests in the Philippines. The organization has been established under two bilateral agreements between the governments of USA and Philippines under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA). Jigme Dorji of UNDP Bhutan remarked that he was “deeply impressed with the role played by the non-governmental organizations,” such as the FFP and FPE.
“The Government of Bhutan may like to explore a mechanism to empower the local NGOs so that they can reach out to local people more effectively in the areas of biodiversity conservation/promotion at the grassroots level,” he added.
South-south exchange initiatives enable BIOFIN countries to learn from respective experiences in terms of implementing the BIOFIN methodology. Bhutan is among the BIOFIN countries that are currently at the early stages of the BIOFIN implementation while the Philippines is at the advanced stages. Learnings from the exchanges will guide Bhutan’s prioritization of finance solutions given their current context and needs. It will also provide direction for their business case development and pilot project implementation. The Philippines have presented a variety of finance solutions to Bhutan during the south-south exchange. (BIOFIN/ Angelique F. Ogena)