Masungi as first line of defense and last hope

‘The world-class level of work that Masungi puts into conservation and the protection of our country’s biodiversity is unparalleled’

The Masungi Georeserve has, in recent years, become a household name. It is the proud home of beautiful limestones etched into the mountains of the Sierra Madre, and of flora and fauna, some of which are endemic to the province of Rizal. It has, over the years, been recognized globally for its efforts towards conservation and reforestation, its forest rangers equipped with knowledge on forests, wildlife protection, and biodiversity. It has been the venue for educational fora and discussions, inspiring the youth especially to take action. A hike through any of their two trails and one is left not just with a feeling of awe, but also a deep desire to be a steward of nature, and an advocate of the environment.

Masungi also does something very important: it protects and resurrects the forests of a valuable portion of the Sierra Madre mountain range, which shields a significant area of Luzon from the harshest of typhoons coming in from the Pacific – further highlighting the import of the Georeserve in the face of the climate crisis, which will lead to harsher natural disasters, including more frequent and intense typhoons. Masungi and its surroundings are especially important for some cities of Metro Manila and Rizal, such as Marikina, Pasig, and Cainta. These places are already getting historic floods that will worsen if we lose Masungi.

Issues faced

Unfortunately, in the last few years, it has also faced several hurdles threatening the continuation of its operations and putting in danger those who work within the Georeserve. In addition to the trespassing and illegal building of structures on the area surrounding the Georeserve, originally set aside for reforestation, and the violence that its rangers have faced, it is also facing concerns regarding the non-termination of Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs), which threatens to harm the lives, livelihood, and properties of those who live downstream. This includes those who live in Rizal, Marikina, and other surrounding areas.

In March 2020, then Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Roy Cimatu declared that he will cancel the MPSAs applied for by a number of companies; however, two years hence, no action has yet been commenced.

In addition to the fact that the MPSAs will allow quarrying in the protected areas (which is disallowed by law), it will endanger ecosystems and put into precarity the lives and livelihoods of people. The area over which the MPSAs were issued is a geohazard zone, prone to floods and landslides, which is dangerous enough in itself, but which will be exacerbated by quarrying and other similar activities.

Moreover, the MPSAs will result in the loss of water supply for the surrounding communities, the degradation of the beautiful limestones that dot the southern part of the mountain range, and the displacement of the Masungi Georeserve Park conservation project, which, since its inception, has been at the forefront of ensuring the revitalization of the forest and wildlife in adjacent degraded mountains.

The issuance of the MPSAs, in addition to the concerns on trespassing and violence, are but some of the issues faced by the Georeserve; unfortunate and ironic, considering the work that the Georeserve has done for the protection of our forests, and, by extension, the protection of our lives.

In addition, there are many illegal resorts operating in the area. They also need to be stopped and further expansion prohibited.

When Gina Lopez was Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resource, she ordered the reforestation of the area and entered into an agreement with the Masungi Reserve to lead that effort. That agreement must be respected and in fact strengthened.

Our last hope

In the aftermath of Typhoon Agaton (International name: Tropical Cyclone Megi) that struck the Philippines just a week ago, displaced thousands, and left hundreds dead or missing, and two weeks after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report by its Working Group III on Mitigation of Climate Change, there is a very urgent need to look at how we have been moving forward in the country’s fight against the looming climate crisis. 

In order to do so, it is imperative that the country brings it focus towards ensuring that its forests are kept safe, its ecosystems preserved, and its peoples’ human and environmental rights upheld. It is through this that we are able, as a country, to press forward despite the threats brought about by climate change, undoubtedly the biggest existential threat that we have had to face thus far.

We echo the statement earlier this week of Presidential Communications Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Martin Andanar: “Safeguarding the environment and natural resources is an important component in our sustainable development. We therefore express concern on reports of alleged development activities, which include resort expansion, in the Marikina Watershed. We urge the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force to look into the matter and file the necessary charges against violators of environmental laws.”

We have worked with the Masungi Georeserve quite a few times over the last few years. During that same time, we have written about the Georeserve, and all the work it has done. This is due to a couple of reasons. One, the world-class level of work that Masungi puts into conservation and the protection of our country’s biodiversity is unparalleled; and second, and equally important, in the face of the climate crisis, it is doubly imperative that we protect our forests, our lands, and our environmental defenders: our first line of defense, our last hope. –

Tony La Viña is the Associate Director for climate policy and International relations of Manila Observatory. He also teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Joy Reyes is a human rights and climate justice lawyer affiliated with the Manila Observatory.

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