Masungi endangered rangers win conservation award for courage against threats

Masungi endangered rangers
The Masungi-Bayog Ranger Team of Kuhkan Maas, John Paul Magana, and Monica Inonog continue their duties to preserve the forest park despite threats to their lives. Photos from the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

Filipino forest rangers from the Masungi Georeserve Foundation have bagged a global conservation award for their continuing efforts to protect the Upper Marikina Watershed from threats such as illegal encroachment and destruction – despite risks to their lives.

The Masungi Georeserve’s rangers, represented by Kuhkan Maas, John Paul Magana, and Monica Inonog of the Masungi-Bayog Ranger Team, won in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) 2022 International Ranger Awards held in a hybrid ceremony at the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda.

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The Masungi team is one of 12 winners from 10 nations across four continents given the IUCN-WCPA International Ranger Awards “for going beyond the call of duty to protect the earth’s wild places and wildlife, and to support local communities.”

The forest defenders of the Bayog Ranger Station, located at one of the most vulnerable areas for encroachment within the Masungi Geopark Project in Rizal, were lauded for their exemplary courage and determination to carry out their duties in the face of serious risks and challenges, including violence, threats, and harassment from environmental offenders over the past few years.

Masungi rangers were announced among the winners of the second International Ranger Awards in a ceremony on July 20, 2022, during the IUCN African Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.

Endangered Rangers

The foundation has reported that the team at the Bayog Ranger station and rangers stationed nearby have “faced non-stop violence, threats, and harassment from environmental offenders and organized criminals in the past few years.”

Maas, a forest ranger of the award-winning geo-reserve conservation site in Rizal, and his companion were shot in the head and neck after their daily patrol in the Bayog Ranger Station in 2021.

Earlier this year, Masungi rangers, including Magana and Inonog were mauled and ganged up on by whom they refer to as “persons associated with swimming pool resorts and compounds that have been built inside the watershed”.

“The rangers not only face physical harassment but also legal harassment which aims to exhaust resources and discourage them from continuing their work, including patrolling, reporting, and mitigating threats, planting and maintaining project areas, and educating visitors,” stated Masungi in its press release about the awards.

Calling for Justice

“Because of the lack of enforcement, negligence, or even connivance of certain officials, we are always put in the line of danger. Many times we feel alone. Instead of helping us, some of those in positions of authority are in effect helping incompatible interests like quarries and illegal structures prosper,” Inonog lamented.

“Sana mabigyan din ho kami ng hustisya sa aming mga pinagdaanan. Sa kasamaang palad, hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa napaparusahan ang mga may sala sa pananakit sa amin,” Maas noted.

(We hope to receive justice after what we went through. Unfortunately, those who harmed us have not been punished up top now.)

“The world’s rangers are the unsung heroes and heroines of conservation,” said Dr. Madhu Rao, Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. “We rely on their perseverance and dedication to maintain a healthy planet for wildlife and for people. The work of these women and men is skilled and diverse: they are protectors, educators, community facilitators and wildlife monitors, working in protected areas, private reserves, Indigenous territories and community conservancies.”

“We are inspired that the international community recognizes our efforts and sacrifice. We hope this recognition will raise awareness of the plight of environment defenders in Masungi and the Philippines. We ask the new DENR Secretary Ma. Antonia ‘Toni’ Yulo-Loyzaga to help protect us from continuing danger and finally remove the destructive quarry interests and illegal structures in the watershed,” Monica Inonog said in the statement released by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation.

“We also ask the police and the local government to support us in defeating organized crimes inside the Masungi landscape and the surrounding watershed, the health of which is critical to the disaster resilience of many communities and cities,” Inonog added.

The Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area in Rizal that has reopened to guests, has won first place at the inaugural global Water ChangeMaker Awards, and earned awards from organizations IUCN and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), among others.

Last year, Filipina environmentalists Ann and Billie Dumaliang of Masungi Georeserve were named among the winners of the Vanity Fair “Changing Your Mind Travel Awards.”

SEND CHEERS in the comments below to Filipino forest rangers from the Masungi Georeserve Foundation for bagging a global conservation award for their efforts to protect the Upper Marikina Watershed from threats, such as illegal encroachment and destruction.

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Margo is a voracious reader - some might even say she reads too much for her own good. She majored in BS Psychology and hopes to become a forensic psychologist one day. She’s also an aspiring writer, mental health advocate, and a staunch believer of equality.