Filipino conservation project Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal bags another global acclaim as UNWTO recognized it as among the top three most sustainable and innovative tourism projects from the private sector worldwide on Sept. 10. In attendance was tourism secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, who expressed her support for Masungi. 

Masungi is one of the top three projects under the Enterprises category, out of almost 200 projects nominated worldwide. V Resorts of India was eventually awarded the top prize. 

Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who was also present at the event in a bid to host the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly in 2021, expressed her pride and support for the conservation project in Baras. 

Sec. Romulo-Puyat remarked, “The Department of Tourism congratulates Masungi Georeserve for being in the top three finalists of the UNWTO Awards. We hope that this award will make more people visit and support the georeserve!”

Trustee and National Geographic Explorer Ann Dumaliang said, “We are very honored to be recognized alongside established tourism organizations from across the world. Masungi is highly local and quite young when it comes to tourism, and to be acclaimed in front of hundreds of tourism ministers and high-ranking officials from UN member states is a rare feat.”  

The UNWTO is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. The UNWTO Awards is the flagship awards for the global tourism sector.

This great honor for the Philippines is the third international award garnered by Masungi in a span of one year. 

The project received a special commendation at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UN-CBD) 14th Conference of Parties in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in October 2018. Masungi then became a global finalist for Destination Stewardship Award at the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in Seville, Spain in April 2019.

Filipino pride: A distinctly local and sustainable tourism model

During the UNWTO Awards, Jury Member Istvan Ujhelyi, Member of the European Parliament, also noted the importance of Masungi both in the local and international context.

“Projects like Masungi must be safeguarded and promoted especially in emerging countries like the Philippines where challenges persist. This is a great example of sustainable tourism making a difference in restoring and protecting areas of ecological significance,” he said.

Masungi Georeserve is a grassroots conservation project protecting 60-million-year-old limestone formations and more than 400 documented species of biodiversity in Rizal. 

In the 1990s, the georeserve was already illegal logged to the ground and land traffickers muscled their way into the area. To prevent further degradation, the area became part of a joint venture development of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Blue Star Development Corporation (BSDCDC) for housing alongside the preservation of the area’s natural characteristics and limestones.

Despite BSCDC fully financing and sustainably developing the project, it suffered massive delays and challenges due to rampant land speculation and lack of government assistance. BSCDC, together with experts and stakeholders, continued to lead and invest in the research and protection of the rock formations and the restoration of denuded land.

After 20 years of restoration, BSCDC initiated the formation of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation to fortify conservation, education, and geotourism for Masungi. It opened low-volume trail experiences to the public to raise awareness on Masungi’s importance and finance the substantial operational costs of managing and maintaining the area. 

Its now-trademarked model is recognized by conservation experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Commission for Protected Areas (WCPA) as an innovative solution to persistent conservation challenges such as the lack of funding, poor and short-sighted management capacity, and balancing protection and sustainable development.

“The UNWTO recognition inspires our team to continue the difficult but important work we are doing and make the country proud. With this prestigious award we would like to invite more organizations and government entities to join us in this victory and support our conservation efforts decisively. We also dedicate the awards to two of our champions whom we lost this year, renowned geologist Dr. Rollie Pena and environmentalist Gina Lopez,” Dumaliang continued.

In 2017, DENR Secretary Gina Lopez expanded the group’s mandate to restore some 2,700 hectares of denuded land around the original site in an ambitious initiative called the Masungi Geopark Project. Over 47,000 native trees have since been planted and nurtured in the new area by park rangers, volunteers and guests.

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