The Quest for Peace and Security in Butuan: Sharing the Responsibility in Forest Management

17 formal and informal agreements between conflicting parties have been reached for a conflict sensitive management of natural resources.  The agreements cover around 330,000 hectares. In particular, poor farmer and fisher folks as well as indigenous communities benefit from these agreements, e.g. through inclusion in management decisions and heightened focus on the rights of Indigenous Peoples to their ancestral domain.

 “We are happy with the way the Co-Management program is being implemented right now; we become part of the process.   We are thankful that the program has faith in us. As a result, we now have more trust and confidence with the program that is  why we are actively cooperating. We are hopeful that the program could help us provide the answer to our long standing quest for security over the land we are tilling for a long time…”

Mr. Lorenzo Salar, Jr.
Community Leader and Member
Co-Management Area Coordinating Committee (CMACC)
Brgy. Dulag, Butuan City



Responding to the Needs on the Ground

Dwindling forest resources coupled with unresolved and overlapping tenurial issues are contributing for natural resource based conflicts. If unmanaged, these struggles for access and control of the remaining resources could result to violent conflicts brought about by human rights violations, marginalization of Indigenous Peoples (IPs), an increasing poverty situation, adverse environmental impacts and other related factors. These conditions could also serve as a fertile ground for protracted armed struggle.

Butuan City was the ‘Timber City of the South” in the 1960s.  The city is one of the areas in Mindanao affected by protracted armed struggle.  The city of Butuan is co-managing 10,000 hectares of a former logging concession area with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  While both government institutions have a common goal of protecting the people living in the area, its environment and the remaining forest resources, the city government is pursuing its interest in attracting potential investors.

A co-management agreement is a contract between the DENR, Local Government Units (LGUs) and other government entities to protect, conserve and develop a particular forest land and forest resources.  The agreement contains individual and shared roles and responsibilities, mechanisms and processes on how a forest land resources will be effectively managed by all parties including the communities.

The co-management agreement between the city and the DENR has continually met with resistance from major stakeholders and the communities in the area since the program started.  The major stakeholders and communities are hesitant on government initiatives such as the parcellary survey or delineation of occupied land holdings and the issuance of tenurial instruments.  They believed that the co-management program will allow the re-entry of big investors to the area that would lead to their displacement thus their concerns on land tenure, human security and livelihood cropped up. The pre-conception and the protracted armed struggle are hampering the implementation of the program. These factors are also affecting the delivery of public services in the area. 


Initiating Change

Recognizing the limited capabilities to address the complexities of co-managing the area, the city government of Butuan sought the assistance of the Conflict Senstive Resource Asset Management (COSERAM) Program supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in capacitating the Co-Management Project and Program Office (CMPPO) towards an inclusive and peaceful management of the concerned area. 

COSERAM’s intervention resulted in a strategic, integrated and holistic multi-stakeholder dialogue framework that served as a platform for managing the forest area in a more inclusive and conflict sensitive way.

Today, community leaders who represent the voices of the people are part of the management structure. The dialogue framework paved the way for communities to become integral to the decision making process and served as a common link between the government and local communities in the management of the areas and its resources.

Facilitator’s training, @ Fritzie Lim

Communities comprising of eight barangays within the co-managed area are represented in the forest management committee where their interests are heard, protected and respected.  The people living in communities are thereby assured of ownership coupled with a sense of security arising from benefits that may be derived from development projects, programs and investments.

Trust and confidence of the people towards the government have improved. Land-related conflicts are addressed with peaceful resolutions and agreements.


Reflecting on the Lessons Learned

 Sharing the responsibility of natural resource management in conflict prone settings requires a multi-stakeholder dialogue and multi-facetted pragmatic approach towards developing an integrated and holistic resource management that safeguards the rights and interests of local communities.

To achieve an effective steering structure and mechanism requires a higher level of political motivation, resilience and motivation for change coming from local chief executives, local government agencies, community leaders and other stakeholders such as the civil society organizations, non-government organizations, media and others.. These serve as the foundation for the formation of a cooperative system leading to agreements on certain policies and guidelines for inclusive development and protection of the natural resources, e.g. investment/project selection criteria; co-management area development planning.

With the technical support of COSERAM, the Butuan City experience on inclusive co-management of forest and forestland resources in a conflict prone setting is an example of how inclusive agreements between stakeholders at various levels can lead to joint decision-making and shared goals. Although this process can be time consuming and challenging at times it provides an avenue for a more inclusive and peaceful development.

In order to avoid the pitfalls in managing land resource conflicts which could lead to violent escalation, lessons learned from the implementation of inclusive co-management processes and approaches (e.g. community entry in a conflict prone area, multi-stakeholder processes, development and application of investment selection criteria, conflict sensitive land use and development planning) could be adopted or replicated in areas where similar frame conditions are present – especially in other areas where natural resource conflicts are pervasive.

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