Masungi's Defenders Win Prestigious International Award
Rangers of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation won in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) 2022 International Ranger Awards, conferred on the 20th of July 2022 at a hybrid awards ceremony at the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) in Kigali, Rwanda. The Masungi team is one of 12 winners from four continents worldwide.
Masungi rangers, represented by Kuhkan Maas, John Paul Magana, and Monica Inonog of the Bayog Ranger Station, were lauded for their exceptional resilience in the face of serious risks in performing their duties. The Bayog Ranger Station is located at one of the most vulnerable areas for encroachment inside the Masungi Geopark Project, the site of the foundation’s forest restoration initiative, and the Upper Marikina Watershed.
“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,” Inonog said. “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,” she added.
According to Masungi Georeserve, 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. On July 24, 2021, at around nine-o-clock in the evening, Maas and his companion were shot in the head and neck while resting inside the Bayog Ranger Station after their daily patrol.
On February 18, 2022, persons associated with swimming pool resorts and compounds that have been built inside the watershed ganged up and mauled Masungi rangers including Magana and Inonog.
"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," wrote Masungi in a statement.
“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.
According to the 2021 report of the Global Witness, the Philippines is the third among countries with the most killed environmental defenders in 2020, next to Colombia and Mexico, respectively. The documented killings in the country have reached 29 and these are mostly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.
“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. WCPA is delighted to be a partner recognising these new awards which recognise their vital work.”
“Alongside their extraordinary stories of courage and commitment, what is remarkable about this year’s winners is their diversity,” said Chris Galliers, President of the International Ranger Federation. “They include women, men and young people and a very high proportion of them are members of the local communities where they work. This diversity is what the International Ranger Federation is striving for in the sector, as it is the key to tackling the complex challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
The IUCN-WCPA International Ranger Awards aim to recognize the amazing work of rangers globally and improve their abilities, raise awareness of the important role they play in caring for protected landscapes around the world, and spread their unique stories. Nominees were screened based on the following criteria: Exceptional personal commitment to a Protected Area, Exceptional valor, fortitude, or resilience in the face of serious threats to a Protected Area, and Exceptional actions and impacts to safeguard a Protected Area.