Friday, 15 April 2016

Philippines protected areas protecting?

Posted by Stu and Aldrin Mallari

In a paper published in the April issue of the journal Ambio, Aldrin Mallari, Nigel Collar, Phil McGowan and Stu look critically at placement and management of protected areas in the Philippines – and ask whether they are doing an effective job at delivering protection.

Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity urges that nations protect at least 17% of their land, and that protection is effective and targets areas of importance for biodiversity. So, as well as covering a ‘reasonable’ proportion of a nation’s land surface, a quite hard-and-on-the-face-of-it-simple measure of a country’s commitment to conservation, the target also requires that

-    Those national parks etc are in the right places. We know that protected areas have a tendency to be placed in areas which don’t really need protection – ‘rock and Ice’ parks (Joppa & Pfaff 2009).

-    Protected areas do actually do their job in delivering protection to key wildlife – they are not ‘paper parks’ (e.g. Di Minin & Toivonen 2009).

Five years before reporting on Aichi targets is due, we assessed the Philippines’ current protected area system for biodiversity coverage, appropriateness of management regimes and capacity to deliver protection. Although protected estate already covers 11% of the Philippines’ land area, 64% of its Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) remain unprotected.

Mindanao bleeding-heart Gallicolumba crinigera is one of many lowland forest specialists in Philippines. This one was found in a snare 200 m from the HQ at Rajah Sikatuna National Park, Bohol (Photo: Stu).

We asked two broad questions of the Philippines protected areas network:

1. Are PAs appropriately positioned to protect areas of particular importance for biodiversity?

2. Are management systems in place and is there adequate capacity in the current protected area system to enable them to function effectively?

Puerto Princesa Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan (Photo: Dave Lee)

The answer to the first question is, we believe, ‘No’.

While a good proportion of Philippines land area falls within protected areas, there is only a 36% overlap between established protected areas and KBAs (Key Biodiversity Areas – those with the most important species) meaning that 64% of key areas remain unprotected. This shortfall is particularly apparent in small islands like Siquijor (100% unprotected), the Sulus (98%), Batanes/Babuyanes and Greater Negros/Panay (both 75% unprotected).

When we look within a selection of protected areas, we find that there is a mismatch between what is needed to protect key species, and what the protected areas actually protect. The majority of threatened species in Philippines depend on lowland forest – of 40 IUCN threatened bird species, 33 are found only below 1,500 m a.s.l. while 29 are ‘highly forest dependent’. The proportion of strictly protected land that covers lowland primary forest is low – at best 30%, and in some cases none at all.

Mount Apo National Park on Mindanao - a beleaguered protected area due to pressure to convert forest to banana plantations and human habitation (Photo: Aldrin Mallari).

The answer to the second question is, again ‘No’.

Only around 17% of protected areas have a proper management plan and a protected area management board to guide their protection activities. Annual budgets to protect are pitiful in some cases – less than one US$10 per Sq Km in some parks (see Table below). Interestingly, in all five parks looked at, regular ‘BMS’ monitoring data were collected by park staff, but no analysis has been done on all these data.

Through the assistance of the German Government (through the Protected Area Management Effectiveness Project and other similar projects of GIZ) and the USAID (through B+WISER), the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has started to recognise these mismatches and have taken bold moves to rectify the situation. 

Protected areas management planning (Photo: Aldrin Mallari).

The current list of protected areas are being rationalised, management plans are being revised, new and improved management systems are being set up, capacity of management authorities are being enhanced either by skills upgrade and/or additional budget allocations. The system of monitoring of protected areas are currently being improved by using simplified, state of the art, spatially sensitive, mobile technology to complement the existing BMS system. We are thrilled to see more of these positive changes in future, and hope to see continued bilateral support to DENR towards an expanded and more effective network of protected areas in the country!

Mentoring of wildlife patrol staff (Photo: Aldrin Mallari).


Di Minin, E. & Toivonen, T. (2009). Global Protected Area Expansion: Creating More than Paper Parks. Bioscience 65: 637-638.

Joppa, L.N. & Pfaff, A. (2009). High and Far: Biases in the Location of Protected Areas. PLOS One

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