The Masungi Crisis

“The Masungi Georeserve is not just one of the international leaders in sustainable tourism and home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, it has also been fundamental in ensuring the reforestation of the southern Sierra Madre range…“

“This is how the DENR should do it.”

Then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez declared these words when she visited Masungi Georeserve in August of 2016. She liked the genuine care and dedication invested upon the geological heritage comprising karst pinnacles and their indigenous biodiversity in southern Sierra Madre.

There and then, the Secretary asked the Masungi Georeserve Foundation (Masungi) to similarly restore and conserve some 3,000 hectares of adjacent denuded mountains in two protected areas cum national park, game preserve and wildlife sanctuary within the heavily deforested Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape and the Kaliwa Watershed Reservation.

The DENR would clear the area of illegal occupants while Masungi would reforest and rewild the same at no cost to government nor income to Masungi, under a conservation agreement called the Masungi Geopark Project (MGP).

It is not a commercial or land grabbing venture as protected area opportunists falsely portray.

For sure, the MGP can be improved and strengthened but the priority should be to protect the area from those that would destroy it for their commercial interests.

The Masungi Georeserve is an integral part of the Rizal ecosystem.

It is not just one of the international leaders in sustainable tourism and home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna, it has also been fundamental in ensuring the reforestation of the southern Sierra Madre range within the Upper Marikina watershed, which protects low-lying areas from the worst effects of typhoons and rains, including flooding and erosion.

To date, Masungi has physically recovered a vast track of about 2,000 hectares of forestland including four of the remaining Benguet Pine groves planted by the Marcos Administration in the 1970s, installed and manned 12 Ranger Stations, cleared and maintained 15 kilometers of trails and planted and nurtured with volunteers about (100,000 native forest trees.

Now feeling safe and secure from intruders, grazing animals and forest fires, pine cones are germinating after decades of dormancy.

These accomplishments are deemed even more remarkable in the face of aggression from protected area offenders and silence from the DENR.

Two Masungi Park rangers were shot in July 2021 and seven more were mauled in February 2022.

Those attacks, and many other acts of harassment coupled with black propaganda, happened next to a police station within a protected area where quarries, swimming pool resorts, a PENRO and a police general hold prominent and questionable presence.

In the same period the MGP became a global model for conservation and sustainable development earning awards and honor for the country from international bodies like the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Global Water Partnership, and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), among others.

In July 2022, Masungi rangers also received the International Ranger Awards from the IUCN and the International Ranger Federation for their exceptional valor, fortitude, and resilience in the face of serious threats.

Just this week, on September 27, the Masungi Geopark Project won an award from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Awards.

The youth-led project, which aims to fight deforestation and climate change through geotourism, topped this year’s Inspire Category and bested over 3,000 other applications from 150 countries.

“I would like to dedicate this award, first and foremost, to our rangers and our team who are getting their hands and feet dirty to defend our remaining forests,” said Billie Dumaliang, co-founder and trustee of Masungi Reserve, as she accepted the award in Bonn, Germany.

Yet, instead of thanking Masungi and running after the patently maleficent quarries, resorts, the PENRO and the police general — pursuant to their contractual obligation and bounden duty — certain local and regional DENR officials would rather stop the conservation project and terminate the MGP.

With the MGP down and gone, the misplaced quarries and resorts can enjoy the protected area to themselves.

Responsible DENR officials refuse to cancel erring quarries.

They fast track PAMB approvals to legitimize odious swimming pool resorts that disrupt vital waterways.

They also stop Masungi from installing temporary checkpoints to defend the protected area as well as rangers who defend it. But they turn a blind eye to rampant permanent construction and illegal developments.

In the guise of contract review, the DENR squandered five precious years evading its contractual obligation to clear the site of illegal occupants, leaving the protected area and its conservation partner alone in peril.

The DENR did not lift a finger to help Masungi and even tried to justify the attackers when Masungi’s helpless rangers were violently shot and mauled.

Despite the bad faith it has seen and the dangers it faces, Masungi remains true and steadfast in its mission to restore and defend the area from further degradation, for the benefit of future generations.

The Masungi crisis is emblematic of the Philippine and global environmental and climate crisis.

I am confident that newly confirmed DENR Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga will see beyond the fog of her bureaucrats and come down on the side of planet and people.

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