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What’s the sound of saving the planet?

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 21, 2022 5:00 am

The show usually starts with ambient sounds from nature: birds chirping, insects twittering, waves crashing against the shore. It could be the gentle start of a meditation podcast.

But then, a minute or so into National Geographic’s 12-episode audio series Expedition: Earth, there might be a dead stop in the natural sound — or even a gunshot.

National Geographic Expedition: Earth is hosted by Lily Sedaghat.

This is how the podcast dramatizes the threats to our environment.

For Ann Dumaliang, managing trustee of Masungi Georeserve Foundation, just such a moment came when “development aggressors” encroached on park rangers camped out on the protected lands in Rizal early one morning in 2021 and shot two of them in the neck and head; a few millimeters in either direction, and the shots would have been fatal. There had been many threats before that, something Ann and her family have learned to live with.

“You know, it's incredibly saddening when these things happen,” she says of the shootings and threats from illegal quarrying firms and developers, “but at the end of the day, who's going to do it, right? And what's at stake? Can we even afford not to do it?”

Think of Ann and hundreds of other eco warriors as frontliners for the future of the planet. This part of Asia contains the planet’s highest biodiversity, yet ironically its forests are the most threatened by human development and encroachment. For the Philippines, 95 percent of which was once covered in forests, this bit of green life is now reduced to… three percent.

Ann Dumaliang is a managing trustee of Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

That’s the storyline Nat Geo’s Expedition: Earth series (launched last Earth Day) manages to convey by focusing on very localized stories and angles.

Ann’s dad, Ben, an engineer, helped fight to create the Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal. Since opening in 2016, its 2,000 hectares — half recovered from quarrying, the rest from land speculators — were given protection by the DENR, which named the Dumaliangs as caretakers. Ben’s legacy is now passed onto Ann and their siblings — and really, to all Filipinos.

On the trails of Masungi Georeserve

Growing up, Ann and sister Billie came to realize the importance of this relationship with nature early on. “My dad has always shown us the value of the outdoors,” she says. “During the weekends, most of that free time was spent in the mountains and in nature — we weren't raised to spend a lot of our time in the city, except for when we need to be going to school, so that's a huge part of how he's grounded us.” Eventually, she became a National Geographic Explorer.

What makes Masungi different from other ecoparks here is that, instead of conserving the legally mandated 30 percent and allowing development in the remaining 70 percent, they’ve flipped the script: Masungi pledged to protect 70 percent of the forests, watersheds and wildlife species, with only ecotourism activities allowed in the remaining 30 percent.

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The project has devoted that 30 percent to creating hiking trails and canopy walk bridges along with guides who help guests experience the beauty of protected Philippine lands firsthand. “It’s about creating experiences that allow visitors to understand what stewardship is about,” says Ann. “So it's not just for the sake of visiting a place; it’s tourism that transforms you.”

Even more important, Ann explains, is protecting Masungi’s natural watersheds, which benefit millions of Metro Manila residents downstream. Watersheds are natural dividing ridges that help channel rainfall, streams and waterways to drainage areas, and eventually Manila Bay. But those watersheds are dwindling fast, especially since Typhoon Ondoy. She likens it to losing “10,500 natural dams” over a few years. Without them, Metro Manila experiences much faster flooding, less-clean water and other environmental threats. “The watershed, even as it is incredibly important for wildlife and biodiversity, is really a disaster-risk mitigation infrastructure: whatever happens to these areas affects everyone downstream,” notes Ann.

While Masungi has 100 fulltime rangers on staff, Ann says they still need “volunteers” to help patrol its 2,000 hectares (see link below). And even though the lands are protected by law, there’s pushback — sometimes violent — from illegal operators, politicians, law enforcement and others. Then there’s the fact that laws are rendered toothless if enforcement is only “on paper” and reports from the ground provide false, rosy pictures of the true environmental situation.

But the Dumaliangs are committed. “Imagine if government got to empower 10 other groups like Masungi, people who have a record for conservation, who are really passionate about conservation,” she says. “You could technically recover that watershed in record time.”

If the Expedition series drives home one point, it’s that efforts such as the Dumaliangs’ are happening all over Asia — whether protecting songbirds in Southeast Asia, freshwater fish in the Mekong, or waterways and dwindling forests in the Philippines — driven by individual efforts and passionate actions.

“That's the thing about conservation, it's not something that you achieve overnight,” says Ann. “Forests regenerate themselves and, at 100 years, that's the pace of nature. And unfortunately, sometimes, that's also the pace of change.”

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Visit to tune into new “Expedition: Earth” podcast episodes every Friday at 5 p.m. “Expedition: Earth” is co-produced by Cignal, First Media, HK Cable TV, MNC Vision, Now TV, SKY Cable and TrueVisions.

If you’d like to volunteer to help at Masungi Georeserve Ecopark, visit this link, or sign a petition to help stop illegal quarrying at Masungi here.