Makiling now a heritage park
MANILA, Philippines—Legend has it that a forest nymph named Maria protects the bounty of riches on the slopes of the “enchanted” Mount Makiling in Laguna province.
There’s a wealth of stories about Mariang Makiling. She is a wisp of cloud that envelops the mountain, a guardian deity. She is a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, with skin the color of olives and hair as black as night. She is a spurned lover, a vengeful spirit that leads careless hikers astray.
But beyond the myth and mystique of Mt. Makiling, a team of real men and women are working every day to preserve and protect the plants and animals on the mountain, and perhaps the legend that surrounds it as well.
On Thursday, the Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve was formally unveiled as the latest Heritage Park of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in a ceremony at Makiling Botanic Gardens.
The designation is seen as a boost to efforts by the government, academic community, civil society and local communities to safeguard Makiling and its flora and fauna, according to Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim.
High biodiversity area
“What this title will do is help us in the branding of Mt. Makiling as one of the high biodiversity areas not only in the Philippines but [also] in the Asean region,” Lim said.
“It gives us more leverage to seek support not only at the national level but at the international level as well,” Lim said.
Mt. Makiling is only the 33rd Asean Heritage Park and with its addition, the Philippines now has five. The others are the Mt. Apo Natural Park, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park and Mt. Malindang Range Natural Park, all in Mindanao, and the Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro.
The Mt. Makiling Forest Reserve has an elevation of 1,090 meters and covers an area of 4,244 hectares, straddling parts of Los Baños and Bay towns and Calamba City in Laguna, and Sto. Tomas town in Batangas province.
The mountain’s odd slopes have sometimes been described as in the slope of a reclining woman.
Stuff of legends
Besides its rich biodiversity, part of the reason Makiling was chosen as an Asean Heritage Park was its reputation as a legendary mountain, Lim said.
“Mt. Makiling is the stuff of legends… It is an enigma. It’s already part of the folklore and culture not only of the people who live there but [also] of the entire Philippines,” she said.
She said of Mariang Makiling: “She is an enchantress protecting the mountain. In many ways, the stories about her help raise awareness among the people about the need to protect nature.”
Only 10 forestry technicians–rangers and foresters–are deployed to check possible unlawful activities on the mountain, including logging and pollution, said Nathaniel Bantayan, director of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems.
“It’s not enough. We’re targeting the addition of 30 more in the next few years,” Bantayan said.
The ideal ratio is one forester covering 100 hectares of forest.
“Right now, we’re only at about 1:400,” Bantayan said.
But while the work of forest rangers helps sustain and propagate the story of Mariang Makiling, conversely the myth also helps them perform their duty.
One story goes that a group of foresters one day were transporting caged birds aboard a tractor as part of a failed project to put up a semicaptive sanctuary in the forest.
“One early morning, they were confronted by a girl wearing a native skirt. She asked: ‘What are you doing here? Why are the birds in a cage?’”
Stories like this abound in Makiling, he said. “In many ways, I think it helps because the more these stories are spread, the more people are prevented from doing illegal things,” Bantayan said.
Although there are “pockets” of Makiling where illegal logging and poaching are happening, these are by and large isolated, he said.
The geography of the mountain plays a part. “We can’t say there is large-scale denudation because you would be so exposed. You would have to go down to Sto. Tomas or Calamba so it’d be difficult to hide questionable activities,” Bantayan said.
Approved by Asean
Environment ministers from the 10 Asean member states approved the nomination of Mt. Makiling as an Asean Heritage Park at the 14th Informal Asean Ministerial Meeting on the Environment on Sept. 25 in Surabaya, Indonesia.
The declaration was first officially announced by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje in a keynote address delivered for him by Undersecretary Manuel Gerochi at the four-day 4th Asean Heritage Parks (AHP) Conference, which opened in Tagaytay City on Oct. 1.
In approving the nomination, the Asean environment ministers noted that Mt. Makiling “is a well-known destination for scientists and tourists alike because of the reserve’s prominence as an outdoor laboratory for forestry and its mountain peaks, and boiling mud and hot springs.”
The reserve is also recognized for its high conservation importance and is one of the Philippines’ 18 centers of plant diversity and 32 key ecotourism sites.
Mt. Makiling “is known as a legendary mountain and habitat of many important plant and animal species. The reserve manages to protect and conserve its diverse species,” Bantayan said.
Dr. John Pulhin, dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, noted that the reserve is home to internationally famous organizations of various concerns.
It has become a “national and international center for higher education, the science, the arts, natural resources conservation and utilization, and tourism,” he added.
The PAWB’s Lim said Mt. Makiling’s proximity to academic and scientific institutions added to its uniqueness.
In that sense, unlike other famous Philippine peaks, Mt. Makiling straddles two worlds: one of research and discovery, and the other of mystery and legend, where Mariang Makiling lives and reigns.
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