Church, celebrities join call to save Masungi geopark

Church, celebrities join call to save Masungi geopark
Photo from Masungi Georeserve Facebook page

CARITAS Philippines, the socio-civic arm of the Catholic Church, and some A-list celebrities, have joined the call for the protection of the Masungi Georeserve, the last known green corridor located in Baras, Rizal province, some 48 kilometers away from capital Manila.

On Wednesday July 4, 2024, no less than Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio urged the public to side with local rangers and call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “to intervene and continue to protect Masungi.”

“Conservation successes like Masungi serve as a reminder that the Philippines can become a leader in sustainability, eco-tourism, biodiversity protection, and climate action,” DiCaprio wrote on his official social media.

Jing Rey Henderson, Caritas Philippines head of communications and partnership development, lauded the actor for reiterating their stance about the Masungi Georeserve.

“Thank you for getting involved in the issue. I hope, we Filipinos, our voice will be heard more. We should be the first to voice our opposition to any move that will destroy our natural resources and ecosystems,” Henderson told Sunstar Philippines on Friday, July 5.

In 2017, under a landmark agreement with the late conservation advocate and secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Gina Lopez, the Masungi Geopark Project was established, where volunteers and environmental conservationists worked for “ecosystem restoration initiative aims to restore nearly 2,700 hectares of degraded forest land around Masungi Georeserve, and address gaps in halting deforestation in the area,” the Masungi Georeserve Foundation (MGF) said on its website.

“Now this success is in jeopardy, as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources threatens to cancel the agreement that protects this area from prolific land grabbing activities,” added DiCaprio, as he expressed fear that “this cancellation would set back the success of an internationally acclaimed conservation effort and leave the area vulnerable again to mining, logging, and illegal developments.

Henderson also reiterated their earlier statement that the planned cancellation “is unwise and would be detrimental to environmental protection efforts."

As the Masungi rainforest landscape has been restored and preserved from its degradation in the 1990s, the Masungi has now become a popular hiking destination in the country.

While the DENR expressed appreciation for "the statement of concern for the Philippine environment" issued by DiCaprio and other local and global celebrities like ethologist Dr. Jane Goodall and environmentalist Greta Thunberg, the department maintained that “no one is exempt from the law."

"The Filipino people own the area occupied by Masungi Georeserve Foundation, and the operation of the resort venue that [charges] the public for day tours, meetings, and weddings remains non-compliant with Philippines laws," DENR said in a statement on July 4.

“This area is also covered by Joint Venture Agreements (JVA) and Supplemental Agreement (SA) for government housing projects. The owners of MGF are both signatories to the JVA and SA, which are currently being investigated by the DENR and Congress,” it added.

In response, the foundation said that Masungi Georeserve is “a non-profit conservation initiative run by the MGF which is a non-stock, non-profit Foundation duly registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).”

“Masungi is therefore not a resort, which is built for the primary purpose of entertainment and profit,” the foundation wrote on its social media.

According to the foundation, the trails at the geopark have a “Certificate of Non-Coverage (CNC) which is the equivalent of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) for projects with insignificant environmental impact as defined by the Philippines Environment Impact System.”

The foundation maintained that only three percent of primary forests remain in the Philippines due to rampant deforestation, mineral extraction, and poor environmental enforcement.

“The area of Masungi Georeserve east of Manila is a microcosm of these problems in a highly sensitive karst landscape which serves as a natural filter for vital waterways,” it said.

For the past 20 years, the Masungi Georeserve, an award-winning conservation project, has been protecting the area threatened by a myriad of challenges such as illegal logging, quarrying, land abuse, and neglect, among others.

“Support from like-minded individuals and institutions empower us to continue our efforts to Save Masungi from these threats and restore the surrounding landscape,” it said. (Ronald O. Reyes/SunStar Philippines)

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