Mt Makiling named ASEAN Heritage Park

Pia Ranada

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The legendary mountain is the 33rd ASEAN Heritage Park and the 5th in the Philippines

MOUNTAIN OF LEGEND. Mount Makiling, now an ASEAN Heritage Park, is associated with the legend of Maria Makiling, a beautiful fairy who guards the mountain. All photos by Pia Ranada/Rappler

LAGUNA, Philippines – Mt Makiling, a key biodiversity hotspot and popular hiking destination, was named the 33rd ASEAN Heritage Park on Thursday, October 3.

In a ceremony held at the Mt Makiling Botanical Gardens in Los Baños, Laguna, officials from the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity presented the certification of declaration to the park managers and officials of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, under whose jurisdiction the mountain falls.

Also there to receive the certification were mayors of cities covered by the Mt Makiling Forest Reserve and officials from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In a message to the congregation, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje said the distinction brings “little, but pleasant surprise,” because though Mt Makiling has been recognized as a national park and center for biodiversity, the park has had to put up with heavy human traffic and use.

CERTIFIED. ASEAN officials and delegates from member countries bequeath the certification declaring Mt Makiling an ASEAN Heritage Park to Rex Victor Cruz, Chancellor of University of the Philippines Los Baños, mayors and park managers 

At its foot lies the sprawling UPLB campus whose students use the mountain as an outdoor laboratory for forestry. A National Arts Center, several international organizations, residential areas and other facilities are found within the park.

“The wonder is that, for all its wear and tear, the Mt Makiling Forest Reserve continues to thrive as a habitat for biodiversity, well enough to qualify as an ASEAN Heritage Park,” said Paje.

Significance of title

Mt Makiling is the 5th ASEAN Heritage Park in the Philippines. The others are Mt Apo Natural Park, Mt Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Mts Iglit-Baco National Park and Mt Malindang Range Natural Park. It is the first in Luzon and the first to be managed by the academic sector.

But what does the title mean and what are its implications?

PLANT DIVERSITY. The flowers of the Buddha Tree bloom all year-round

In approving the nomination, the ASEAN Environment Ministers noted that the Mt Makiling Forest Reserve is a popular destination for both scientists and tourists because of its prominence as an outdoor laboratory for forestry, its majestic summits (it has 3) and boiling mud and hot springs.

It is also recognized for its high conservation importance being one of the Philippines’ 18 centers of plant diversity and 32 key ecotourism sites.

Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau chief Theresa Mundita Lim said that while the title does not come with a grant or cash prize, it’s a great boon to the park.

MAGNIFICENT. Discovered in 1850, the Medinilla magnifica is a flower endemic to the Philippines and is one of Mount Makiling's highlights“It’s branding. We can use it to leverage more support from the national and international community. There has to be more awareness-raising in terms of services Makiling is providing to the private sector,” she said.

“It’s about time the resorts, for example, who depend on the hot springs invest in the protection. We need this kind of event to make them more aware that if they don’t participate in the protection, their business will dry up in a few year’s time.”

The title also sounds the call for stakeholders to be even better stewards of the park.

“This puts a greater responsibility on our shoulders,” said Bruno Ramos, mayor of Bay, a municipality in Laguna.

The citation convinces him all the more that “enough budget should be allotted for the maintenance and promotion of Mt Makiling. Areas destroyed by erosion and flash flood should be rehabilitated.”

SIGHTS TO SEE. The Mulawin Creek in Mount Makiling is white with sulphur making it good for the skin

Mt Makiling will now also benefit from being a part of the ASEAN Heritage Park Programme which facilitates knowledge-sharing on best park management practices across the network of ASEAN Heritage Parks found all over the 10 ASEAN member states – Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.