Insights and Analysis

Using Drone Technology to Improve Land Titling in the Philippines

June 29, 2016

By Mari Chrys Pablo, Oliver Petzold

The Philippines’ Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez announced the new administration’s 10-point economic agenda. One of the top items was improving security of land tenure to encourage greater investment and address bottlenecks in land management and titling agencies-longtime challenges that have held the country back from inclusive growth that could create more jobs and reduce poverty.

Drone surveying in Philippines

Of the 24 million land parcels that exist in the Philippines, it is estimated that only half have formal land titles. Here, community members examine aerial maps from a drone survey.

Of the 24 million land parcels that exist in the Philippines, it is estimated that only half have formal land titles. In this environment, it is common for an individual to live on a plot of land and even run a business there without possessing a formal contract that grants them secure, legal ownership of the property. Such practices are in fact not illegal and are common across the Philippines. Yet many economists argue that this lack of secure property rights, which exists in many developing countries around the world, presents a barrier to economic growth and poverty reduction. For example, without a formal land title, a property owner is less likely to be able to use their property as collateral to secure a loan and may be less incentivized to make long-term investments in their home or business which could in turn spur economic growth and increased employment.

In 2010, The Asia Foundation began working with a coalition of public advocacy organizations, legislators, and government agencies to introduce a transformational land reform policy known as the Residential Free Patent Act. By opening the door for citizens and non-lawyers to participate in land titling, this new policy has brought about a dramatic increase in the number of land titles being issued each year, jumping from 4,000 in 2010 to 60,000 today. While the gains have been significant, there are still roughly 8 million untitled residential parcels. At the current rate of 60,000 residential titles per year, it would take over 100 years to title all untitled residential parcels.

One of the main reasons why land parcels in the Philippines remain occupied but untitled is the high cost of surveys. Before a lot owner can apply for a title, a subdivision survey must be completed in which the plot of land is properly measured and mapped. Traditional subdivision survey methods are expensive and time-consuming, requiring a team of trained professionals and many hours to measure a single plot of land. However, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, can potentially significantly reduce these costs.

In order to accelerate land titling in the Philippines, The Asia Foundation partnered with the Foundation for Economic Freedom on a new initiative: the Technology for Property Rights Project, to introduce innovative tools like drones to make it easier and faster to conduct subdivision surveys.

In April 2016, we conducted a pilot study in Cordova, Cebu, to test drone effectiveness in subdivision surveying, working with international and local drone surveying partners, Micro Aerial Projects L.L.C. and SkyEye Inc., in collaboration with the Municipality of Cordova and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In order to conduct a drone survey, a UAS is flown over an area of land in a crisscross pattern. As it does so, it records images of the land below to create an aerial map. Special control points which have been marked on the ground before conducting the UAS flight and which are visible in the aerial images enable the drone survey team to link the aerial map to the DENR’s grid system. Once this process is complete, high resolution maps can be printed out and reviewed by members of the community. A traditional survey results in a simple black and white drawing of land boundaries that can be hard to interpret. With UAS images, however, community members can recognize buildings and other landmarks in order to help identify plots of land and resolve any disputes. Most importantly, the UAS-based mapping process is much faster than traditional methods, enabling a survey team to map 40 hectares in one day.

To be accepted as a survey tool in the Philippines, aerial maps from a drone survey must pass the government’s accuracy standards. The high-resolution maps produced through the pilot study in Cordova were 95 percent as accurate as the results from traditional field measurements, with an average horizontal difference of just 5.2 centimeters. In collaboration with DENR and local government units, we worked on a policy to allow the use of drones to gather land information.

The Land Management Bureau (LMB) of DENR issued Memorandum Circular No. 2017-003 adopting the alternative use of UAS or drone technology in conducting land surveys, effective 26 January 2018. UAS is now an acknowledged tool in addition to traditional survey instruments as it produces high resolution maps and meets the government’s accuracy standards. Philippines is one of the first countries in Asia to use drones for land survey. This cost-effective and accurate survey method can help to improve land surveying and increase the pace of titling in the Philippines.

[Editor’s note: This piece was revised and updated on Feb. 26, 2018.]

Mari Chrys Pablo is a program officer for The Asia Foundation’s Economic Reform and Development Entrepreneurship Program in the Philippines. Oliver Petzold is The Asia Foundation’s assistant director of Resource Development. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Technology & Development
Related topics: Urbanization


About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].


For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

The Latest Across Asia

The Asia Foundation Supports Leaders for a Better World