Why we need a forest cadastre

SAMPLE graphical cadastral map from https://cadastraltemplate.org/philippines.php

IN THE PHILIPPINES, with a total land area of 30 million hectares (ha), only alienable and disposable (A&D) lands (14.2 million ha) are included in the national cadastre, and information on them can be found in a public registry. The remaining forest lands (15.8 million ha) are not included in such a system and information on them is not available in a publicly accessible database.

CADASTRE?A cadastre is a parcel-based and up-to-date information system containing records of interests in land such as rights, restrictions, and responsibilities, etc.1 It usually includes the geometric description of land parcels linked to tenurial instruments and the value of the land parcel and its improvements.2

Recording of land ownership has been around since Ancient Egypt but the foundations of the modern-day cadastre were laid down by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1807 when he ordered the creation of maps and cadastral records.3 Forest lands are also included in the cadastre ,whether they are publicly or privately-owned.

Finland, Germany, and New Zealand have one cadastre that caters to all land classifications. In Turkey and Greece, there is a separate cadastre for forests. A forest cadastre is an inventory and record of interests in forest lands for various purposes. It is a tool for protecting, planning, development, and sustainable management of forests.

In the Philippines, although not yet established, a semblance of a pseudo-forest cadastre is being implemented through activities such as forest boundary delimitation survey and delineation of parcel forests and/or forest lands from the different tenurial instruments. However, one missing aspect of these initiatives is a systematic land information system and forest land registry that is publicly available.

DO WE NEED ONE?Yes. There are proposed bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate that seek to establish a forest cadastre, to include forest lands in the national cadastral system. As the bills frame it, the forest cadastre will also include mineral lands, national parks and protected areas, ancestral land domains, reservations and proclamations — those lands that are not subject to private ownership.

Prior to any development and management undertaking, having information is imperative. The forest cadastre is a public library of information on forest lands enabling the public to make informed decisions on sustainable use, management, and/or regulation of use of forest resources. The forest cadastre is like one huge jigsaw puzzle set and each piece is one forest parcel (regardless of size) filled with relevant information regarding the land and the forest therein. Where is the parcel/piece located? What are the dimensions? Is it tenured or not? Who are the claimants? Which parcels are available for commercial activity, and which are not? And the best part is that this entire puzzle set of information shall be made available to everyone.

It is high time that the Philippines considers its forest lands in its existing national cadastral system. Why?

First, the availability of relevant and parcelized forest land and forest information can help for the effective and efficient management, planning, and assessment of forest lands.

Second, a forest cadastre can help in monitoring resource utilization and provide a reliable basis holding stewards/managers accountable if forest lands have not been properly used and managed.

Third, there will be a better understanding and inventory of tenures that may lead to their potential registration other than absolute ownership, i.e., CBFMA, IFMA, SIFMA, PACBRMA, CADT, and CALT among others, and this may help facilitate access to better credit in formal financial markets.

Fourth, the needed information will be publicly accessible encouraging private sector investments in green development projects, not only to provide livelihood to up to over 25 million upland dwellers but also to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change.

Finally, the cadastre will help identify and resolve lingering boundary conflicts or issues in forest lands among different agencies with overlapping jurisdiction such as the self-delineation of ancestral domain lands.

PRIVATIZING FORESTS?The proposed forest cadastre does not equate to privatizing forest lands as the State remains as its sole owner per the 1987 Constitution. What the forest cadastre does is that it provides a systematic and parcel-based recording and mapping of interests in forest lands similar to the existing cadastre on A&D lands. In fact, this initiative is in line with Section 53. c. of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Memorandum Circular 2010-13 as it states, “other lands which cannot be subjected to private ownership shall also be included in the lot survey and shall be issued a Cadastral Lot Number.”

With the decline of the country’s forest cover (7 million ha in 2015 from 14 million ha in 1950s), the increasing need to address concerns on climate change, and the decline of local wood production, it is of paramount importance that we sustainably manage our already diminished forest resources, and this is anchored on well-defined property rights and accessible reliable information.

1Panfil, Y., Mellon, C., Robustelli, T., & Fella, T. (2019). 3D Cadastre and Property Rights. New America. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2022, from https://www.newamerica.org/future-land-housing/reports/proprightstech-primers/3d-cadastre-and-property-rights/.

2Ibraheem, A. (2012). Development of Large-Scale Land Information System (LIS) by Using Geographic Information System (GIS) and Field Surveying. Engineering, 107-118.

3International Federation of Surveyors (2020). History of Cadastral Systems. Retrieved Sept. 7, 2022, from https://www.fig.net/organisation/perm/hsm/history_of/cadastre.asp.

Angela Arnante is a program officer at the Foundation for Economic Freedom.