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Writer’s Recap: Masungi Georeserve empowers environmental climate action in second ‘Explorer Encounters’ conference

In the midst of hopelessness brought about by the continuing climate disasters, Masungi Georeserve Inc. banded together with the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) to bring intergenerational hope to hundreds of Filipino environmental activists, educators, and scientists through their flagship event titled Explorer Encounters: Movements Creating Tomorrow last January 14, at Kondwi, Makati City.

With this year’s theme of creating and advocating environmental conversations, various inspiring leaders touched on their experiences in the field and their environmental projects for a sustainable future, such as projects on the complete removal of carbon dioxide emissions from coal in power plants and other sources, continuing awareness campaigns to protect indigenous tribes as knowledge bearers and defenders of nature, and creating programs to instill education on the proper plantation of Mangrove trees.

Environmental justice and unification

Political Counselor of CFLI Colin Townson signified the event as a nod of solidarity and support from their country in the battle toward the ongoing effects of climate change. Both Canada and the Philippines rank among the top 10 countries most affected by the environmental crisis, suffering from the extreme effects of climate change, such as melting glaciers, coastal erosion, and extreme weather. 

With Townson’s immediate call to resolve the environmental issues, Atty. Garreon Daniel Tungol, chief of staff of the Office of Sen. Raffy Tulfo, provided alternative solutions to better produce sustainable energy such as solar, hydroelectric, and nuclear energy. Tungol also promised that the office will reinvestigate the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) allegations on the supposed constitutional violations of the Masungi Geopark Project (MGP)—a reforestation project from the Masungi Georeserve which aims to revive many degraded lands around Masungi through collaborative effort. 

The agreement between DENR and the Masungi Georeserve Foundation for this project was signed under the late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez in 2017. But last year, DENR made heavy claims that the MGP was “illegal”, “infirm”, and “disadvantageous” to the government and was made under the guise to reap profit under malicious intent and illegal processes. 

Leaders of hope for a sustainable tomorrow

According to a 2021 report by the ICCA Consortium, a global non-profit association dedicated to indigenous peoples and local communities, indigenous communities are at the forefront of conservation and the sustainable use of the environment. However, indigenous tribes and activists are under immense armed conflict from the government, and, due to the forced evictions, a growing risk of marginalization and loss of ancestral knowledge. 

Josefa Cariño Tauli, a member of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network Steering Committee and an Ibaloi-Kankanaey Igorot indigenous youth, emphasized the protection of indigenous tribes as a key element of protecting environmental spaces. She expounded on the importance of including indigenous communities in dialogues in forming ways to strengthen sustainable biodiversity. 

As the ancestral knowledge and customs of indigenous people can be applied for proper conservation of ecosystems, it can also become a blockade for displacement solutions such as fortress conservation, which unjustly evicts indigenous people from their land to alienate greenery environments from humans.

“Caring [for] what your ancestors passed [on is] rooted in community care,” Tauli imparted.

Meanwhile, Camille Rivera, the co-founder of Oceanus Conservation, corrected common mistakes in planting mangrove trees. As mangrove trees are able to extract carbon dioxide four to five times more efficiently with proper placement and care, Rivera was determined to educate the public on proper processes and procedures on mangrove planting. She also hopes that her advocacy will pave the way for future plans on blue carbon finance initiatives—an alternative plan to mitigate climate change through innovation of coastal and marine ecosystems.

Next was Masungi Georeserve’s Project Manager and geotourism advocate Anne Dumaliang, who candidly discussed her journey of standing her ground to protect the team and her father’s restoration efforts to sustain and protect Masungi amid greedy and harmful interests of politicians and businessmen. “The science is clear—the ecosystems are our lifelines for the people who need it,” Dumaliang explained.

Empowering coalition for change

Following Dumaliang’s discussion was Joshua Villalobos, a climate activist and one of the conveners of Youth for Climate Change Hope, who retold his story of how they succeeded in making Negros Occidental an anti-coal province. Through passionate and valiant forms of dialogue and protest, the youth’s sheer determination to push for change turned triumphant when the mandate signed by then-Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. implemented the strict prohibition of the use of coal as sustainable energy as well as any form of coal-fired power plants in the province.

The last talk of the evening was given by Dr. Frances Yap, a prominent member of the Ocean 6, a group that was created by Yap and five other women out of their simple love for the ocean. She shared that she and her colleagues were able to accomplish the tremendous feat of swimming six kilometers across Tañon Strait to raise awareness on ocean cleanliness.

Yap was also an influential member of the “No to 174” Dumaguete reclamation project, a movement in protest against the foundation of a P23-billion “smart city” that will cover 174 hectares of reclaimed land and harm the area’s marine life. Yap, along with hundreds of citizens from Dumaguete, joined the rally and pushed against the reclamation through mobilizations such as swim protests and parades. They continue to lead the fight to save thousands of layered coral reefs and sea life for the livelihood of the people in Dumaguete. 

The event concluded with a panel discussion with all the speakers, each answering heavy questions about overcoming difficulties and inspiring people regardless of their age. Succinctly ending the conversation with the simple truth, Villalobos declared, “Sometimes you have to do it, even if you [are] afraid.”

By Christopher Go

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