Mystical mountain declared Asean Heritage Park

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Mount Makiling in Laguna province is home to the enchanted maiden of myth, Maria Makiling, the Filipino counterpart of virgin goddesses Artemis and Diana who look after wildlife. Makiling comes from the word “kiling,” a species of bamboo that thrives in the slopes of this 4,244-hectare extinct volcano that has been home to myriad of plant and animal species, many of which have yet to be discovered.

The Philippines continues to reap honors and international recognition for its magnificent natural surroundings amidst the recent devastations caused either by nature’s fury or man’s abuses.

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The latest was bestowed upon the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve (MMRF) in Laguna province, that was declared the 33rd Asean Heritage Park on October 3. Earlier, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Puerto Princesa was named as one of the Seven Wonders of Nature.

Senior members of the academe at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) welcomed the declaration signed by the Environment Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

“We have all the reasons to be proud of as a result of this new title,” said Dr. Roberto Cereno, deputy director of the UPLB Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems. Dr. Cereno described the MMRF, an inactive volcano with an area of 4,244 hectares, as a very unique forest reserve, it being directly managed by the University and not by the national government.

The MMFR is one of the five Asean Heritage Parks in the country. The four others are Mount Apo Natural Park, Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park, Mount Igliit-Baco National Park and the Mount Matindang Range Natural Park.

Considered a major outdoor learning site not only for UPLB students and those from other schools and universities across the nation, the MMFR is visited yearly by 1,000 foreign students and scientists from Korea, Japan, Europe and the United States.

Seoul University is sending 30 students annually based on an existing agreement with the UPLB, he added.

Mount Makiling is a habitat for many important plants and animal species. A 2004 UPLB survey in the southern slopes of MMFR indicated that it has 117 terrestrial vertebrates that included 84 species of birds; 12 mammals and 21 amphibians and reptiles.

The same survey showed that among the 177 terrestrial vertebrates, only one bird species has been confirmed to have a threatened status, the Philippine eagle-owl (Bubi philippinensis), and one mammal described as rare or possible vulnerable in status, the Philippine pygmy fruit bat (Haplonycteris fischeri). Both species are reportedly endemic only to the Philippines and are highly restricted to the original rain forest habitats.

Diverse flora and fauna from a large number of endemic families, genera and species also thrive in the MMFR as well as a number of species introduced from several parts of the world.

“Some of them are already in existence after long years of being naturalized in the area,” Cereno said in an interview with The Manila Times in his office at the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems, UPLB in Los Baños.

The mountain is also a favorite place for trekking, camping and mountain biking.

Described as carbon sink for the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon, the MMFR is acknowledged as a very important watershed that provides ample supply of water to one million people and industries in the four municipalities and cities, namely: Los Baños, Bay, Calamba in Laguna and part of Santo Tomas in Batangas.

In 1910, Presidential Proclamation 106 was issued establishing the MMFR to support the forestry school in the Philippines. This was given more teeth with the issuance of Republic Act 6968, which gave the UPLB the exclusive jurisdiction and administration of the MMFR and specifically citing the Chancellor of the University to have a direct control on the conservation and management of the site.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Research in Agriculture (Searca) and other internationally recognized research institutions such as the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) hold their respective offices within the proclaimed MMFR.

Sustained efforts to fully guard and shield the mountain from all sorts of man abuses have been put in place and with the issuance of the Certification—naming the MMFR 33rd Asean Heritage Park, additional support activities directed to strengthen this goal must be carried out by the University, he said.

To continuously serve its main purpose, as training and experimental laboratory for UPLB, the conduct of full description documentation and monitoring of the biophysical and socio-economic attributes and processes within and around MMFR will be revived, improved and institutionalized.

Development and restoration of the recreational areas shall be given priority to generate revenue and transform the whole reserve into a full-blown outdoor recreation and ecotourism facility. Identification of selected areas would be carried out for development as plantations for different research activities like limber/non-timber production.

He noted though that while the new recognition certainly has given the University and its men and women a great honor, it however, carries a big responsibility to maintain the Mountain’s good name. A truthful and honest commitment to make the mountain stands by its name . . . 33rd Asean Heritage Park and one of the few outdoor learning and recreational centers throughout the nation and around the world must be enforced and effectively carried out.

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