Lack of access to land and natural resources breeds poverty and drives conflict, which hinder national development. More than ever, land governance in the Philippines needs to be improved, as its land area of 30 million hectares will now have to respond to the needs of more than 110 million people. At present, major issues beset land governance in public agricultural lands, forest or timber lands, national parks, and mineral lands in the country.

In Mindanao, the second largest island group in the Philippines, many families do not have sufficient access to arable land, and an increasing number are settling in forests, thereby leading to the forests’ more intensive agricultural exploitation and land degradation. Moreover, amidst the area’s volatile socio-political environment, overlapping land claims are sparking violent conflicts. The country’s more than 60 current laws and regulations on land policy and management have yet to resolve land-related problems in the area.

Land and conflict

Land is key to peace and stability. Responsible land governance is a complex and highly controversial subject involving population and economic growth, multiple use of land and resources, controversies over tradeoffs between competing land uses, individual aspirations and rights versus the public good, the state, and local government’s rights and responsibilities.

Many armed conflicts spark from land and resource disputes and overlapping claims. The continued presence of various forms of violence places a particular burden on women and children, indigenous people, and other marginalized communities. The many decades of experience show that land matters to peace-building.

Land tenure, degradation and livelihood linkage

According to a 2020 Prindex study, nearly half (48 percent) of the adult population in the Philippines feel insecure about their land and property rights. Land tenure insecurity is recognized globally as one of the major challenges in achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN), which aims to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation. Although over time, land degradation is a natural occurrence, several research and experiences prove that land degradation is increasingly caused directly or indirectly by unsustainable human activities, notably deforestation, overgrazing, mining or intensive agriculture. This then results to biodiversity loss, desertification, and a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Communities and households that are directly affected by degraded land are more prone to experience decreased agricultural productivity and water scarcity, loss of livelihoods, poverty, and food insecurity. Delays in the recognition of tenure instruments of indigenous groups also greatly threaten their livelihood, especially when their livelihood resources are directly destroyed by climate impacts.

Land and climate change

Women, children, and the poor also have the highest risk of suffering from the extreme negative impacts of climate change such as rising seas, changing landscapes, increasing frequency and/or severity of droughts, fires, floods, and storms, climate-related illnesses and diseases, and damage to ecosystems and biodiversity loss that affect the country’s economy, environment, and culture.

Mindanao is particularly threatened because from 2012 to 2021, the agricultural sector accounted for 63 percent of the PHP 463 billion (Philippine pesos) worth of damages incurred by the Philippines due to extreme weather events, and Mindanao accounts for 41 percent of the country’s total agricultural area.

Besides the impacts on agricultural lands that compromise the country’s food security and farmers’ livelihoods, climate change impacts on land ecosystems and biodiversity put pressure on our other basic needs aside from undermining climate change mitigation and adaptation, as land is both a significant source and sink of greenhouse gas emissions.

Land management challenges in the Philippines

As the current administration continues to place land governance as a key priority, the land administration and management (LAM) agencies are striving to address the long-standing problems in managing the nation’s limited resource. Furthermore, here are major land issues that require immediate solutions:

  • Overlaps on land use classifications plans

Although tenure instruments or agreements covering 4.9 million hectares of forest either already exist or are being issued, the land rights holders cannot make long-term investments due to the general lack of land management plans especially in ancestral lands. Moreover, the existing guidelines for different land use planning processes cannot be applied to all land use-related plans, and most land use classifications conflict with other land use classifications.

  • Coordination challenges among agencies

Weak coordination/collaboration of various land administration and management (LAM) agencies leads to overlapping land claims. Thus, land disputes sprout and repeatedly escalate into armed conflicts. In these conflicts, women and children suffer the most from displacement, and women suffer the most from trying to make ends meet.

  • Limited community participation and unavailability of documents

In addition, local communities, women, and indigenous groups are rarely included in the land management process, and information on the location and extent of issued usage rights, the number of people holding individual or collective rights, and the predominant or intended land use in particular zones is frequently either missing or not publicly accessible.

The RLGM Project

In response to the dire and urgent need, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through the Land Management Bureau (LMB) partnered with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to implement the Responsible Land Governance in Mindanao (RLGM) project from May 2018 to July of 2023. RLGM is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) as part of the German contribution to peace and development in Mindanao. Together with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) (formerly the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board) and selected local governments and communities, including indigenous cultural communities in selected areas of Mindanao, the RLGM project supported the improvement of the administration of public lands in Regions X, XI and XIII toward sustainability and conflict sensitivity.

Over the past five years, the project has become instrumental in supporting LMB’s efforts to improve frameworks and policies on land governance. Government partners consisting of the national line agencies, their regional offices, and local units; civil society organizations; and the communities that served as laboratories for pilot testing new concepts and approaches rallied behind its initiatives.

RLGM worked with its partners in the following areas to push for more responsible stewardship of their lands in a conflict, climate and gender-sensitive manner:

  • promoting an improved institutional framework for responsible land policy at the national level;
  • developing land management capacities of the local governments; and
  • increasing transparency of the government's dealings and raising public awareness of land policy.

The RLGM Approach

RLGM fulfilled these mandates through technical and policy advise, capacity development at all levels, and procurement of supplies and equipment. All interventions were geared toward strengthening policies, frameworks, and mechanisms for governance; increasing management capacities; and expanding the use of digital solutions for data and information exchange to achieve a more effective and sustainable solutions to address the present needs.

rlgm addressing land governance in retrospect 600px 2Project staff and partners train on the use of UAV or drone to map land resources in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental.

Using a participatory process, RLGM involved stakeholder consultations extensively for gathering data and insights; solicitating buy-in; and demonstrating, pilot-testing, and refining approaches with powerful and non-violent tools. Transfer of know-how and skills to partners was also ingrained in the implementation of the RLGM project from start to finish, to maximize opportunities for sustainable outcomes.

In brief, some of the highlights during RLGM implementation were:

  • Conducted a national summit on land which gathered over 140 participants and key actors on the land sector to tackle the relevance of pushing for the Enhanced Land Sector Development Framework (eLSDF) and Road Map 2019-2040 into a wider adoption led by the DENR. The eLSDF is just one of the studies commissioned by RLGM to review laws and policies related to land governance in the country.
  • Strengthened the efforts and cooperation between the LAM agencies and the LGUs in exchanging information and data related to land use and land rights, such as on different tenure instruments, land uses, locations and sizes of ancestral areas, planning and monitoring, and climate information.
  • Assisted the digitalization of maps and piloted their use in the three regions. This technology will be piloted by the LMB later on to support data sharing and information exchange for the updating of land use development plans.
  • Pilot tested scalable approaches for local land administration and management that are designed to empower local communities in managing their jurisdictions and lands in a conflict, gender and climate sensitive manner. Specific concepts on Collaborative Management for Common Pool Resources, Facilitating Dialogues to address land claims and overlaps, and Harmonization of Various Local Development Plans into Land Use Plans were shared to the three regions in Mindanao to address the challenges in land management involving local governments, CADT holders and regional government agencies.

rlgm addressing land governance in retrospect 600pxMembers of an IP community in Misamis Oriental discuss some issues about their land.

In its five years of implementation, the project successfully developed 14 knowledge products (grouped into 3 clusters: Policy and Organizational Advice; Innovative Approaches and Good Practices; and Raising Awareness) in the forms of policy reviews and studies, easy to use training manuals and facilitator’s guidebooks, info brochures, videos and radio magazine segments that tackled land issues.

It is important to note that many of these carefully planned measures were later restricted by the lockdowns and slowdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to early 2022. Many activities were also affected by typhoons and extreme weather conditions. Nevertheless, RLGM’s key mitigating measures for such disruptions have become part of its knowledge stock for future programs and development projects.

RLGM project emphasized and pushed to address the need to balance the competing uses of land. Five years of implementation is certainly not enough to harmonize various policies on land governance.

The experiences once again stressed the value of land to the people. Several RLGM field activities had glaring realizations of how community maps served as a powerful tool for improving the lives of local communities. Updating the maps and empowering the local people helps them in defining their resource management plan and pushes them to visualize their priorities for conservation and production. Updating community maps and putting the communities at the heart of the process gives them the space to determine the present land-use plan and direct the future of their lands.



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