The Philippines has the dubious distinction of being the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders for the past nine years, according to Global Witness. The international organization’s latest report
states that 19 Filipinos were killed in 2021 while trying to protect nature.
Last year, two park rangers
at the Masungi Georeserve Foundation cheated death when they got shot at. The foundation, through an agreement
with the government, has restored 2,000 hectares — out of an estimated 3,000 hectares — of forest land, including a vital watershed, located east of Metro Manila.
However, Masungi’s success has attracted unwanted attention from loggers, quarrying companies, resort owners, and other opportunists. On Sept. 19
, more than 30 armed men set up camp near the nature preserve and “appeared poised to illegally occupy a part” of it, reports Inquirer.net
The local police seized about a dozen firearms from the men, who were identified as personnel of a private security agency. But the men were only fined ₱1,000 (about US$17) each; no one was arrested.
Amid such daunting challenges, Masungi won the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Action Award under the Inspire Category on Sept. 27
. At the forefront of conservation efforts for the georeserve are young people.
“Youth [have] been the catalyst for the Masungi Geopark’s accomplishments and make up the core team of the managing trustees, truly showing how they can flip the script for climate action, conservation, and tourism,” according to the U.N. SDG website
. The foundation bested 3,000 entries from over 150 countries.
In her acceptance speech, trustee Billie Dumaliang dedicated the U.N. recognition to the park rangers, the foundation’s allies, partners, and the people of the community. She said, “To the people who have said that we are dreaming too big, … this is a reminder that we will not stop. That we will win in the end with our energy and creativity.”