Thinking political economy in the Philippines

During this week I have been peer reviewing a paper on policies and interventions that aims at improving the sustainable management of forest and forestland in the province of Negros Oriental, Philippines. The government, through line agencies such as the Provincial Office of Environment and Natural Resources, supports municipalities in conducting Forest Land Use Planning exercises, or FLUPs. The aim is to determine the current land use and identify issues and opportunities in the management of the forest and forestland areas.

Participatory planning meetings between community members, local government units, and line agencies help to agree on how to manage the forest resources. The resulting management agreements are called Co-Management Agreements (CMA). The objective is to achieve a sustainable management of forestland to secure and improve the livelihood of the people living in and from forestlands while improving the environment.In the province of Negros Oriental where I live, eleven municipalities have been implementing forestland planning. Ten of them have signed a CMA with the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (i.e. the Ministry) which defines how the forest areas under their jurisdiction will be managed. Once a CMA is signed they become a legal instruments which clearly defines the role and responsibilities of the signatory parties.International development partners such as USAid and GIZ have been providing support to these processes in Negros as well as other parts of the country.

So far so good … but … a sentence in the paper made me think about the CMA process: ‘For CMAs to work they require participation by community members during the planning exercises, committed leaders, and the willingness to share power and have participatory decision making processes’ and, I would add, a long term view on the use of forest resources. In the old logframe language, those are a lot of assumptions that have all to come together if the process is to lead to positive outcome. CMAs have to be designed and implemented by institutions are made of people.

Those assumptions what do they represent? A need for change in the social and institutional set up or rather a weakness of the CMAs as an instrument and as a process?  If, for example, one of the key assumptions for the process to succeed is that there is shared decision making process in a political environment that does not favor shared decision making, what does that mean for CMAs? How do CMAs fit in a political environment at the sub-national level in the Philippines which is prone to short-termism since elections at the local level take place every three years. Does this mean that CMAs are the wrong approach?

I would not go that far. CMAs are certainly technically sound as they rely for the most part on local knowledge by government facilitators and evidence gathered and validated through participatory exercises and discussion. There is anecdotal evidence that CMAs contribute to increasing transparency since citizens, Local Government Units, and the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources now have a shared responsibility in governing the forest areas. But are CMAs politically feasible?

CMAs represent the typical donors supported intervention that carry the risks of being presented, introduced and implemented as technical solutions that seem to steer away from the political environment with which they will inevitably get in contact and influence in one way or another. Interventions such as CMAs need to take into consideration and analyze the political environment and the politics that are linked to them. Make explicit what most of the people involved in them know. Ask whether in a particular region, province or municipality they are politically feasible? If so, under which circumstances? Do they require major changes and exceptional conditions in order to succeed or can they easily fit and influence the existing local governance environment? I was pleased to find myself able to see things from a political economy angle and look forward to share these thoughts with the team facilitating CMAs in the province of Negros.

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