In a time when it’s getting harder to stand up for the environment, the UN’s recognition of the Masungi Georeserve’s defenders serves as great encouragement.
On September 27, the Masungi Geopark Project won an award from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SFG) 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.
THE VICTORIOUS MOVEMENT
The UN SDG judges commended the movement “for being strong and bold enough to participate in national legislative inquiries and direct lobbying.” They also applauded the team “for going above and beyond through their engagement with the general public,” and emphasized their admiration for the “creativity of their successful storytelling” and for the courage of environmental activists, defenders, and forest rangers.
As part of the UN SDG Action Campaign, the Action Awards aim to “mobilize, inspire and connect people to drive action towards a more sustainable future on a healthy planet.” The campaign also encourages people to #FlipTheScript, which entails rethinking and recalibrating the way we live, and redefining what progress and development mean.
“We flip the script by showing that a small group of young people, through their courage, creativity and energy, can form coalitions and bring about transformational change for the nation,” the youth defenders shared in Masungi Georeserve’s #FlipTheScript video. “Finally, we flip the script by showing that tourism does not have to impact our environment negatively. It can become a powerful force for good.”
POWERING THROUGH ADVERSITY
According to the report of Global Witness, the Philippines is one of the deadliest place for nature defenders. From 2016 to 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed, making the country an utterly dangerous place to protect our environment.
Just recently, 30 armed men, reportedly belonging to a private security company, encamped along the road near the Masungi’s conservation site and the Kaliwa Watershed protected area. For almost three weeks, the invaders have harassed, threatened, and intimidated defenders and illegally claimed ownership of the land. Although they have now left the area and their unlicensed firearms have been seized, no arrests have been made.
“Let us continue to urge the government to look into the possible anomalous and syndicated activities that made this invasion possible in the first place,” the statement posted on the Masungi Reserve website read. “Let us continue to push back and speak truth to power not only in Masungi but in other threatened sanctuaries in the Philippines.”
LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
The Masungi Geopark Project was born through a landmark agreement in 2017, thanks to fellow conservation advocate and then Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez. This initiative seeks to rehabilitate about 2,700 hectares of degraded forestland around the Masungi Georeserve.
“It’s one of the last green corridors that are providing a lot of essential services to millions of Filipino people in greater Metro Manila actually. If the government doesn’t have an enormous and ambitious protection plan that will be put into place, should Masungi Georeserve go away, then that spells disaster for millions of Filipino people,” shared Leon Dulce, former National Coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, about the Masungi’s sheer importance.
For over two decades, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation have been tirelessly committed to caring for and protecting the environment. Mostly comprised of passionate young people, this community of conservationists aims to work towards the protection of the Masungi Georeserve’s limestone formation and biodiversity through conservation, education, and sustainable development.
“Finally, I’d like to dedicate this award to our opponents,” said Dumaliang during her acceptance speech. “To the quarrying companies and the land grabbers, their enablers in government, to the people who have said that we are dreaming too big, that this is the way things have always been, and that we’re pushing too far, this is for you. This is a reminder that we will not stop, that we will win in the end with our energy and creativity.”
May their win serve as an inspiration for young Filipinos to hold the line in protecting and standing for the Masungi Georeserve, the Kaliwa Watershed, and other vulnerable natural resources.