Philippines: No Fire Bonus Plan Program of Mountain Province (IFFN No. 18 – January 1998)

Fire Situation in the Philippines

(IFFN No. 26 – January 2002, p. 92-95)


In the Philippines, about 5.49 million ha or roughly 18percent of the total land area are still covered with forests. The remaining oldgrowth, or primary dipterocarp forests, comprises only about 0.804 million ha,far from the 12 million ha of old-growth forest that existed 55 years ago (Igsoc1999). A close look at the causes of this reduction indicates that the majorfactors of denudation are kaingin, or shifting cultivation, forest fires, illegal occupancy,conversion to other uses, clearing in the process of logging, pests anddiseases. Fire is obviously a very serious problem that threatens the fewremaining forests of the country. Humans have caused most of the reported forestfires, either intentionally for economic gains such a kaingin,charcoal production, etc., or unintentionally through negligence orcarelessness.

  • The major forest vegetation types of the Philippinesinclude:
  • Dipterocarp forest at 0-800 meters above sea level (m. s. l.);

  • Mangrove and beach type forests (within the coastlines);

  • Molave forest (premium hardwood at 0-800 m. s. l.);

  • Pine forest (800-2 000 m. s. l.);

  • Mossy forest (Lithocarpus and Podocarpus speciesat the higher fringes).

Four climatic zones are distinguished in the country bydistribution of precipitation:

I             Six months dry and six months wet.

II            No definite dry season, wet from November to January.

III           Dry from November to April, wet during the rest of the year.

IV           Rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year.

Southeast Asia is periodically affected by the El Niño-SouthernOscillation (ENSO) phenomenon that induces prolonged dry or wet seasons. If aprolonged drought occurs, the aforementioned forest vegetation types are proneto disturbance by wildfires, except for mangrove and beach type forests.

Prior to massive land-use changes (1960s-1970s) in thedifferent forest vegetation types, fire protection efforts were concentrated inthe pine forests, predominantly in Pinus kesiya and Pinusmerkusii stands. These pine forests are still the most fire-prone forestecosystems in the Philippines, although grasslands, plantations and agriculturalareas are also vulnerable and at high risk for wildfires that threaten adjacentforests.

During the drought of 1983, the first large fire wasexperienced in the dipterocarp rainforest in the southern part of the country(Mindanao). The massive build-up of understory fuels, coupled with drought andthe presence of a large number of ignition sources resulted in an unprecedentedfire situation in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The major factors thatcontributed to the abnormal situation in the Southeast Asian rainforest were:

  • Land-use changes brought about by forest resource exploitation;

  • Agricultural expansion due to the survival needs of an ever-increasingpopulation; and

  • Erratic climatic changes with prolonged droughts.

The montane “mossy forest” stretching above the pineforest belt is not usually prone to fire. Regular burning of the pine forests inthe lower slopes is slowly reducing the mossy forest area at its edges, causingthe intrusion of pine and grassland vegetation. This situation threatens thevaluable mossy forest with its biodiversity-rich vegetation, which is high inmedicinal, scientific and ecological values. This type of forest is an importanthabitat of migrating birds from mainland Asia.

The indigenous pine forest on the island of Luzón is afire climax forest due to its long history of regular fire influence. Evidenceis given by dendrochronological analyses (fire scars in tree stems) and byreports of villagers on large fire events in the hinterlands of the Cordilleramountain range in the northern part of Luzon Island. According to these reports,fires could burn whole villages when houses were made with thatched grass roofs.In 1975, a sawmill and its surrounding residential houses were burned when crownfires occurred on the steep slopes of the nearby pine forest. This happenedagain in the same spot in 1987. In 1981, two firefighters were killed when theywere trapped in the rugged terrain of a watershed. During the drought of 1983, avehicle was burned while at a fire scene.



Figure 1. Severe sitedegradation in the montane pine forest (Pinuskesiya) in the cordillera of Luzón, Philippines, due to the combinedeffects of trampling, grazing and fire. Photo:GFMC

Large fires in the pine forest often burn for weeks andare difficult to control due to the rugged mountainous terrain, lack ofappropriate equipment and the unavailability of trained manpower. Large fires indifferent parts of the country, along with other neighbouring Southeast Asiancountries, contributed significantly to the smoke-haze in Asia, especiallyduring the drought of 1997-1998. Fire data for the 1990’s in different regionsof the country are shown in Table 1.

Table1. Forest destruction in the Philippines by cause

















1993 17 862 90 15 329 1994 10 234 1 528 7 719 1995 24 102 408 10 330 1996 5 185 94 4 557 1997 22 321 4 707 1 368 Total 79 704 6 827 39 303 Annual
15 941 1 365 7 861

Source: DENRAnnual Reports cited by Igsoc (1999).

Fire management organizations

Operational experiences infire protection and management are more specialized within the pine forest areaand forestry projects where external assistance has been provided. In the 1970sand 1980s, a fire control council for the pine forest area existed whereby allinvolved organizations (government agencies, local government, industries andprivate sector) were being coordinated by the Bureau of Forest Development. Thereorganization of the operations of the Department ofEnvironment and Natural Resources (DENR), which included the Bureau, resulted inthe council’s discontinuance. Fire protection was relegated to the regularoperations of the DENR’s field units.

A technical cooperation project, which focused on basicfire research and provided a fire management operational force within theCordillera Administrative Region, was implemented with FAO assistance from1987-1990.

With the shift of DENR’s operations in the 1990s, theregular forest protection units of DENR have to contend with meagre governmentfunds and limited personnel. While the communities in the field were enjoined tohelp in fire protection, operational facilities and large fire organizationneeds cannot be met, which in some aspects discourages volunteerism.

In the case of industries, they maintained their ownorganizational capabilities and on several occasions the DENR provided trainingat their request. The decentralization of power to the local governments hasalso fostered innovation in isolated cases, depending on priorities. In MountainProvince, a fire prevention incentive mechanism was implemented with thepolitical leadership (concept published with IFFN in 1997) for a short period.

The large fires that occurred during the 1997-1998 droughthighlighted the need for a national fire organization. The Armed Forces wereinvolved in the suppression activities that led to the declaration of forestfires as a national disaster. At present, a national coordination andoperational capability is still needed in case of a drought where wildfires areexpected. Research activities to improve capability and draw up a nationalprogramme are needed in the following areas:

  • An appropriate fire danger rating system in various forest vegetationtypes;

  • Fuel assessment at various locations and forest vegetation types;

  • Development of appropriate technologies;

  • Impact assessments;

  • Development of burning prescription guidelines.

Prescribed burning

The use of prescribed burning as a management tool hasbeen in use in various areas in the country, although policy guidelines for suchactions have not been provided. This is most common in the areas such as:

  • pasture areas to induce forage;

  • fuel reduction (pine forest);

  • natural regeneration (pine forest);

  • debris burning in farm lots especially within forest and nearbycommunities.

In most forestry projects implemented by the government,hazard and risk reduction are conducted as an integral part of the activity.However, these are not being monitored and studied for proper technologyimprovement.

Public policies

The forestry policy in the Philippines is outdated with abill on sustainable forest management yet to be passed by Congress. Thediscouragement of private ownership of forest resources puts pressure ongovernment agencies with the responsibility for fire protection.

Igsoc (1999) stated: “The Philippines has not beensuccessful in forest protection and conservation as manifested by the presentstate of the Philippine rain forests. Forest fire control and management is onlyone of the many conservation issues that have been inadequately addressed asshown by the absence of appropriate legislation.

To its credit however, the government through the DENR,when confronted with problems arising from forest depletion, has demonstratedits willingness to make drastic but appropriate revisions of its forestpolicies. The basic lesson learned by government is that when local peoplepossess secure land tenures, they strive hard to maintain the productivecapacity of such land resources. Thus, the government logically concluded thatlocal people can be tapped as effective forest managers by granting themtenurial instruments on public forestlands that need rehabilitation andprotection under the community based forest management program.

The full implementation of the DENR’s reorganization in1988 provided the abolition of the Forest Protection and Law EnforcementDivision and transform the defunct Bureau of Forest Development (BFD) as staffbureau which is now called Forest Management Bureau (FMB). In other words thereis no longer a definite Office or Division in the Central Office who willoversee, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the nationwide implementation offorest fire control and management program. Thus, it is recommended that theformer Forest Protection and Law Enforcement Division be restored in the FMB whoshall be given the task, among others, to see to it that field offices haveadequate manpower and trained forest protection personnel; recommend appropriatefire fighting tools and communications facilities to be procured and distributedto CENROs; should take the lead in the training of forest protection personneland firefighting crews in coordination with the DENR Human Resources DevelopmentOffice.

While it is true that personnel training is vital for theeffective forest fire prevention and control, equally important is to providethese trained firefighters with appropriate firefighting tools, vehicles formobility and transport and communication facilities.

The Information, Education and Communication (IEC)campaign using a multi-media approach has made some impacts in the forestconsciousness of the public that has greatly helped in curbing illegal loggingbut not so much in preventing and controlling forest fires. While the companiesare able to advertise their consumer products on television as frequently asevery 30 minutes, the government seldom used this medium in fire preventioncampaign on the grounds that TV airtime is relatively expensive. It is high timenow to redirect priorities and the IEC approach to create greater impact to thegeneral public awareness in fire prevention and suppression aspects.”

IFFN/GFMC contribution submitted by:

Manuel L. Pogeyed
Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Cordillera Administrative Region
# 80 Diego Silang Street
2600 Baguio City

Fax:           ++63-74-443-9322 or 442-4531
Tel:           ++63-74-442-2353


Bartolazo, D. L. 1997. Forest fire management in thePhilippines: The 1995 forest fire season. Int. Forest Fire News No. 16, 22-25.

Goldammer, J. G., and S. R. Peñafiel. 1990. Fire in thepine-grassland biomes of tropical and subtropical Asia. In: Fire in the tropicalbiota. Ecosystem processes and global challenges (J. G. Goldammer,ed.), 45-62. Ecological Studies 84, Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg-New York, 497 p.

Goldammer, J. G. 1985. Multiple-useForest Management. The Philippines. Fire Management. FAO: DP/PHI/77/011, WorkingPaper No. 17, Rome, 65 p.

Goldammer, J. G. 1987. TCPAssistance in Forest Fire Management. The Philippines. Forest Fire Research.FAO: TCP/PHI/66053 (T), Working Paper No. 1, Rome, 38 p.

Igsoc, R. O. 1999. Appropriatemission and structural organization concerning forest fire management, thePhilippines. Paper presented during the 2nd International Workshop onForest Fire Control and Suppression Aspects, Bogor, Indonesia, 16-21, February1999.

Jurvélius, M., and D. L. Bartolazo. 1995. Creation of anew Forest Protection and Rehabilitation Division. Int. Forest Fire News No. 13,18-19.

Pogeyed, M. L. 1998. No Fire Bonus Plan Program ofMountain Province. Int. Forest Fire News No. 18, 52-56.

Country Notes
IFFN No. 26

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