Participatory forestry needs to revisit the notion of what “participation” means rather than uncritically follow the technobureaucratic guidelines of baseline assessment and monitoring. In this study, we are concerned about materialism and idealism in the policy and practice of participatory mangrove rehabilitation in the Philippines. The analysis is based on the review of mangrove policies and a case study of a successful project, the Katunggan Ecopark. Empowerment does not necessarily follow a bottom-up strategy, but is given as an impetus by the traditional authority after capitalizing on the rhetoric of participation and limiting the decision-making power of the members of the community during the incipient stages of the project. This has put the local communities to work despite having anxieties over the project’s positive promises. Social cohesion, a volunteer network, and the community’s sense of ownership of the success of the project that was not previously felt before, can be gained through evidence from the material success of rehabilitation. With the transformation of the denuded area to a mangrove forest, power was decentralized from the local government authority to the people’s organization. Recognizing the difference between the materialist and idealist perspectives and learning to negotiate between the two can significantly inform pragmatic approaches to environmental policy and governance. More studies that reflect on the inconsistencies and biases of the materialist-idealist divide in both policy and practice should be done to further our understanding of a dynamic, flexible, and transformative participatory process.