Environmentalist: Diminished Marikina Watershed’s condition similar to ‘Stage 4 cancer’

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 14 2020 02:59 AM

An aerial photo of the balding portion of the Marikina Watershed in 2017, captured by then Environment secretary Gina Lopez. Gina Lopez

MANILA — A conservationist from the Masungi Georeserve on Friday regretted seeing floodwaters inundating parts of Luzon and some areas in Metro Manila due to Typhoon Ulysses, saying the Upper Marikina Water Basin was in its last stages of “forest death.”

Billie Dumaliang, a trustee and advocacy officer at Masungi Georeserve, told ABS-CBN News on Friday it would be hard to reverse the damage made to the watershed due to illegal logging and land-grabbing, among others. 

“The Upper Marikina Watershed is in Stage 4 of forest death. The mountains are bare and illegal activities continue unabated,” Dumaliang said. 

“Since it’s just grassland it can be compared to a Stage 4 cancer. Ibig sabihin, mahirap na ibalik sa dati, malapit na mamatay, kailangan pagtiyagaan.”

(Which means it will be hard to reverse the damage done to it. It is nearing death, we need to work hard to maintain it.)

Floodwaters from Ulysses could have been prevented if the government “seriously restored” the forest a decade ago. 

She emphasized that the watershed, site of the georeserve’s restoration project, “regulates water flow, enhances water quality, and reduces the risk of floods and landslides in downstream cities like Marikina.” 

“If we had seriously restored it ten years ago, there would now be a secondary forest and healthier soils. Perhaps, the aftermath of Ulysses would be a lot different. So many ifs . . . Too many excuses . . . The answer is right in front of us,” Dumaliang said.

Under Proclamation 296 issued in 2001, the Marikina Watershed Reservation in Rizal was declared a protected area and was renamed Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape. 

It was granted protection under Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992, which means the area is “protected against destructive human exploitation.”

But illegal activities, Dumaliang said, haven’t stopped in the area despite its protected status.

In October, conservationists from Masungi Georeserve sounded the alarm on the presence of armed guards working for a private company at the eco-tourism site. 

The barriers, set up in a portion of the georeserve’s restoration project, blocked authorized Masungi personnel from accessing about 1,000 hectares of land

Restoration ‘only way to go’ 

Restoration should be “the only way to go,” Dumaliang said, and the only long-term solution, especially because it is a nearby forest to Metro Manila. 

“It is not only the planting of native trees but the restoration of an entire working ecosystem . . . It is the only sustainable and long-term solution coupled with smart infrastructure and disaster risk management,” she said. 

Land-grabbing, illegal logging and charcoal-making, corruption and negligence, Dumaliang added, continue to threaten restoration efforts. 

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“Spurious and large-scale land speculation inhibits genuine efforts to restore the watershed . . . Many have the desire and resources to reforest until they are prevented by spurious land claims by powerful people,” she said. 

“We need to act now or we will see the same fate soon, and regret that we did not do enough.” 

A post by the late environment secretary Gina Lopez calling for the reforestation of the Marikina Watershed in 2017 has gone viral, as environment advocates sought long-term solutions to prevent massive flooding in the capital region. 

Concerned parties said the recent flooding in some parts of Metro Manila and in Luzon was a manifestation of what Lopez was trying to explain years ago. 

Ulysses left at least 14 dead and trapped residents in some areas on top of their roofs, as they awaited boat rescue from raging floods. 

In scenes reminiscent of unprecedented flooding brought by Tropical Storm Ondoy over a decade ago, villages in eastern Metro Manila and neighboring Rizal experienced severe inundation, with the Marikina River reaching water levels worse than its peak at the height of the 2009 storm.