The systematic accounting of a country’s natural wealth and the goods and services the ecosystem offer, provides opportunities to generate information and better understand the natural environment’s contribution to the economy. This on the other hand offer support policies and decision in the pursuit of sustainable development taking into account environmental economic and socio-political dimensions. The Philippine Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (PhilWAVES) Project under the global WAVES initiative of the World Bank is presently pilot testing the Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (EEA) framework of System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). The development of the ecosystem accounts was developed by experts on Environmental Economic Accounting and directed by United Nations Statistical Commission. The intention is to link to ecosystem goods and services to the national accounts that are traditionally not included in the System of National Accounts (SNA).
The province of Palawan, known as the “last ecological frontier” of the Philippines and a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, was selected as one of the pilot sites for the Philippines. The province is governed by a special law, the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Act, that serves as its blueprint for sustainable development. Specifically the development of the accounts focus in Southern Palawan within the Philippine declared Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL).
Ecosystem goods and services are being viewed as “free” by the general public, and thus being undervalued, is one of the major causes of the deterioration of these same goods and services and therefore of the ecosystem. This is specially heightened in developing areas where the short term objectives of economic development becomes priority against the long term sustainable development that view the environment and the natural resources as capital for economic development. This has shown to lead to the deterioration of our natural capital and has significant negative repercussions on the economic system that largely dependent on this same natural capitals especially for developing countries like the Philippines. The Southern Palawan area typify this situation where, for more than a decade, most environmentally sensitive areas declared as protected zones are subjected to non-compatible land uses and development. Mineral extraction and large industrial plantations of high value species such as oil palm and rubber threaten the protected areas of MMPL and therefore the ecosystem goods and services it provides. Differing development interests of local communities, national and local governments, academic institutions, and the civil society among other stakeholders, threatens the sustainability of the resources.
The piloting of Ecosystem Accounting in Southern Palawan involves both physical and monetary accounting. It demands technical capacity in systems science, natural science, geographic information, modelling and economics, and compiling of socio-economic and biophysical data, and integrating into maps. Minimum data requirements and appropriate/accessible metrics need to be identified. The key elements such as demographic, biophysical and socio-economic statistics, spatial information and maps, must be regularly generated by government bodies such as the National Statistics Office and its attached agencies, and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) in order to sustain the development of the accounts. In view of the intent to institutionalize ecosystem accounting to support policy analysis, the implementation of the project requires a technical working group whose membership comes from both national and local institutions. National level institutions such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and agencies mandated to regularly produce the System of National Accounts (SNA) oversee and guide the implementation of the project. Its local counterpart is composed of technical representatives from the aforementioned agencies plus the NAMRIA, the local government units, the academic institutions, and the civil society. The execution of the project at the field level is guided by scientific experts. The watershed/catchment (i.e. island ecosystem and ridge to reef continuum) is used as the ecosystem accounting unit, except for the development of the account for the coastal/marine wherein the municipal waters, as defined in the Philippine law, is adapted. However, ecosystem accounts maybe developed also for local government units, a protected area system, or a river basin.
- Institutional and Technical capacity. Natural resources accounting is a fairly new field in the Philippines, hence the paucity in technical expertise. However, existing manpower has the basic skills to be developed. Furthermore, a dedicated office with complementary expertise is need to be established to work full-time on this initiative. Furthermore, it is important to engage the data generating agencies early on in the project implementation to facilitate access to data. The engagement of relevant agencies has opened opportunities for collaboration that can lead to optimum use of resources.
- Data and information. There are limitations in the data and information as these are lodged with different entities not necessarily with government mandated bodies. It is important to engage data generating agencies most specially the Philippine Statistical Authority early on in the project implementation to facilitate access and for data quality control. However even when working arrangements with these agencies have been established, acquiring data and information can still take a long time. Available data may also require further processing as these are either of macro-level in scope (ie. data are generated for national use) or the data are of different time period, locale, and methodology.
- Replication and scaling-up. Local policy issues in the pilot area will likely vary with other locale and will definitely be different from the national policy issues. It is expected then that methods, other than those successfully applied in Pulot Watershed, will have to be appropriateness-tested.
Since the beginning of the Phil-WAVES Project, quite a number of inter-agency meetings, stakeholders consultation, trainings/workshops conducted by World Bank experts and video/telephone conferencing for updating and consultation have taken place, enabling the Technical Working Group members to develop the priority ecosystem service accounts. At this stage of implementation, the development of physical accounts has shown:
- potential utility in the monitoring of changes in ecosystem condition, capacity and flow of goods and services resulting from land use or human intervention,
- assessing effectiveness in implementing policies of, and
- its use as input to policy and management decision