Combatting illegal logging from natural forests has been a challenge for the Philippines since the 1980s. To address this problem, various policies and systems, such as the Log Control Monitoring System (LCMS) and the earlier model of the Forest Stock Monitoring System, were put in place to track the flow of wood products from source forests to wood processors. Although these policies and systems helped the government monitor wood products entering the local market, they had limitations and inflexibilities that hamstrung full tracking of the flow of wood products in the market. For instance, encoding of time-critical data was tedious and time-consuming, and the calculation of forest charges was not automated. Further complicating the process, tree tags or markers used could be erased and tampered with easily.
With the implementation of Executive Order No. 23 in 2011, legal sources of wood have been limited to forestland areas with land tenure instruments only, thereby prohibiting all logging activities in natural forests. Since then, more environmental law enforcement programs have been implemented. As a result, the number of illegal logging hotspots declined significantly from 197 municipalities in 2011 to 22 municipalities in 2017 (Forest Management Bureau, 2018).
Despite these systems and policies in place and actions taken to stop illegal logging in the country, there still have been illegal activities recorded in recent years. In 2017, an estimated four million board feet of wood products valued at PhP 72 million were confiscated due to illegal activities (Forest Management Bureau, 2018). This could have been minimized or totally avoided if the local wood market had recognized and traded wood products from legal sources only. Such capability requires determining which wood comes from a legal source. This can be done by putting up a timber tracking system that can register and monitor wood flows in the market and verify the authenticity of documents required for the transport of harvested wood.
From 2013 to 2019, the Forest Management Bureau (FMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) implemented a project entitled “Development and Testing of National Forest Stock Monitoring System (FSMS) with Improved Governance Capabilities at All Levels of the Forest Administration”. Funded by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), the project aimed to improve the earlier version of FSMS by integrating new features: (a) real-time monitoring and reporting; (b) configurable; (c) multi-tiered; (d) automated data encoding; (e) online system; and (f) QR code tagging and use of GPS. The FSMS is based on the Timber Legality Criteria of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which prescribes, among others, environmental and social safeguards and biodiversity and community rights relative to forest plantation activities.
The first module explains how to tag and automate the recording of information about the trees to be cut. This is supported by Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for authenticity and Global Positioning System (GPS) for tagging of location of tree origins. As information is recorded in the FSMS with the use of nail tags and QR codes, the origin of harvested wood can be verified with the use of RFID and QR readers or scanners by law enforcers at checkpoints. As such, the documents required for the transport of wood can be generated, issued, and verified upon on-site inspections.
The second module of the FSMS provides a tool for law enforcers at the DENR checkpoints to assess and verify the origin of logs and the authenticity of shipment documents. If everything is in order, the FSMS will issue a Verified Legal Origin (VLO) certificate for the shipment. This certifies that the shipment is indeed legally harvested from a legal source.
The third module deals with tapping into web technologies to allow users of FSMS to collect data offline while out in the field and upload to and sync with the central database once the system is online.
With the improvement of the FSMS, the Philippines now has a tool for ensuring legality of timber harvested and marketed in the country. The DENR is preparing for the implementation of the system in all levels of the forest administration. The key for the full adoption of the FSMS depends on the approval of the guideline drafted by the FMB. This will be a key component of the ongoing initiatives and activities of the DENR under its Forest Protection Program. (FASPS/ John Carlo Aguado)