The Sierra Madre Is Luzon's Strongest Defense Against Typhoons, So Why Is It In Danger?
The Sierra Madre has been called the backbone of Luzon for a reason. Aside from the way it stretches along the eastern coast of Luzon like a spine keeping the country upright, it’s true function is to act as nature’s shield against the onslaught of super typhoons and storm surges.
At 500 kilometers long, the Sierra Madre is the longest mountain range in the country and our greatest hope at surviving the Philippines’ many, many natural disasters. It spans 10 provinces, three regions, and protects the 50 million lives in Luzon. While it doesn’t stop typhoons in their path, it can reduce its strength and absorb the worse of it.
Covering almost 1.4 million hectares, which is home to the country’s most biodiverse forests, Sierra Madre is undoubtedly irreplaceable.
So why is it in danger?
Human activity has always been the greatest threat to this planet, and the Sierra Madre is no exception. Illegal—and legal—mining, deforestation, and construction on its land are slowly chipping away at Luzon’s biggest natural shield.
The large mountain range is home to almost 20 protected areas and forests, such as the La Mesa Watershed Reservation and the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscapes. But while they are, by law, protected areas, they are not actually protected. Forest rangers can only do so much against the might of mining companies, illegal logging operations, and armed guards that are a common sight in places far from the public eye.
These instances happen everywhere, even in places as high profile as the Masungi Georeserve, which reported illegal loggers shamelessly chopping trees in a reforestation area.
Former senator and staunch environmentalist Loren Legarda once said that “unchecked illegal logging remains the main culprit” or deforestation, and “government negligence has prompted the devastation of forests.”
“Philippine forestry laws passed since 1930 have failed to provide adequate security provisions for virgin and second-growth forests, thus the forests had virtually no protection at all. For instance, there is only one forest guard for every 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres) of forests,” said Legarda to the Eurasia Review.
A government project, the controversial Kaliwa Dam, is also being proposed, and if passed, would cause massive deforestation on the southern end of the Sierra Madre. The China-funded project is supposed to “reduce flooding” and serve as an answer to the metro’s water crisis, but environmental advocates argue that it will cause more harm than good and have set up a petition to save Sierra Madre.
Dedicated environmental advocates can only make so much noise before they’re drowned out by the sound of bulldozers and chainsaws—and the money these human activities are meant to make.
And this begs the question of whether environmental damage is worth the cost of “development,” and if development will one day cost us the Sierra Madre shield.