Since peat is a fairly rare soil type in the Philippines, there is a fundamental lack of awareness of what peat is, its properties and appropriate management strategies for peatlands in all sectors, from local people to NGOs and government agencies. Linked to this, there is very limited capacity for managing peatlands wisely and no national institutional framework for managing peatlands.
This means that there is a great danger that peatlands may be degraded through activities which do not take into account the special properties of peat. For example, areas of peatland in the Leyte Sab-a Basin and the Agusan Marsh have been cleared for agriculture, but have been abandoned after a few years due to poor yields. In addition, the Agusan Marsh faces substantial migration from other parts of the Philippines, with these farmers being familiar only with agriculture on mineral soils. Land clearance activities are increasing in the Agusan Marsh and may pose a threat to intact peatlands. There is substantial clearing of land immediately to the west of the Caimpugan peat, which may threaten the unique vegetation communities by a combination of fire and lowering of the water table.
Large scale development projects including irrigation components also pose a threat to the Agusan Marsh and the Leyte Sab-a Basin. In the basin, some peatlands have been converted to agriculture by the defunct Leyte Sab-a Development Authority. Likewise, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) continues to issue Certificate of Land Ownership Agreement (CLOAs) over the remaining peatlands. In the Agusan Marsh, 4,000 ha of the marsh may be declared as Alienable and Disposable for the purposes of irrigation. It is not clear whether this is in a peatland area. With these two examples, it is clear that peatlands may be converted to agriculture without any kind of land suitability assessment, which makes the identification of peatland areas in the Philippines all the more urgent.
These threats make it imperative that peatlands are identified and mapped so that appropriate development strategies can be implemented.
Without the ASEAN Peatland Management Initiative (APMI), there is little likelihood that issues on peatlands conservation and sustainable use would have been addressed in the Philippines. The Philippines can benefit greatly from the experience and knowledge gained by other countries in ASEAN in the sustainable management of peatlands, so that information exchange and cooperation with relevant authorities in these other countries is highlighted as a priority in the National Action Plan (NAP).