The Philippines has severely degraded natural resources. The situation has adversely affected the environmental services they provide. In the early 1900s, it was estimated that 70% of the country was covered with 21 million ha of forests. However, only 6 million ha remained as of 2004. Thus, in the last century alone, the Philippines lost almost 15 million ha of tropical forests.

Since the early 1970s, when extensive reforestation efforts began in the Philippines, various incentive schemes have been implemented to encourage people to plant trees on private and public land. However, after more than three decades of support, reforestation efforts in the Philippines have largely been ineffective partly because the incentives provided were either inappropriate or did not consider the long-term nature of reforestation.

Partly in response to the limited success of government-initiated programs, a number of local governments, research organizations and NGOs in the Philippines began testing various environmental services rewards’ schemes as a way of reversing environmental degradation.

The RUPES Philippines project was designed to test water (RUPES Bakun and Lantapan) and carbon sequestration (RUPES Kalahan) environmental services’ schemes. In 2003, Kalahan was selected as an action research site in the country to develop a carbon sequestration payments mechanism; while in 2004, Bakun was selected to test the mechanism for watershed payments. In 2006, Lantapan was identified as a RUPES associate site and later became an action research site for watershed services’ payments in 2008. Through these sites, we hoped to establish rewards mechanisms to encourage people’s participation in protecting and conserving the environment and improving their livelihoods.

Key findings

  • At all RUPES’ sites, the project worked with community-based organizations as the main stakeholders, who were themselves identified as local resources managers and providers or sellers of environmental services. Community support was highly important in the proper implementation of the project. Aside from that, the initiative of the community was vital for the sustainability of the project’s goals as they were the ones who would ensure the continuity of what RUPES had started once the project ended.
  • There are existing national and local policies and legal frameworks which could be utilized to enable mechanisms locally. However, these legal frameworks could only help if the local government units (LGU) or communities opted to allow them to work in favour of establishing a rewards mechanism for conservation and poverty alleviation. The LGUs are mandated by national law to protect and nurture the natural resources under their jurisdiction for the benefit of present and future constituents and, thus, are capable of exercising actions accordingly. But due to lack of political will they were unable to do so. 

Policy influenced

  • RUPES Philippines organized the Payments for Environmental Services Technical Working Group, which consisted of members from government and non-governmental organizations intent on advocating payments for environmental services. The working group aimed to mainstream and institutionalize payments for environmental services’ schemes in the Philippines by conducting research and documenting and disseminating results; advocating policy to support implementation in the country; establishing networks with national and international organizations; and supporting workshops, training and capacity building activities; as well as mobilizing resources.
  • RUPES Philippines contributed to the formulation of the Philippine REDD+ Strategy, which included environmental services’ schemes as one of the financial mechanisms to be used in the implementation of REDD+ in the country.