Adventure seekers may now again experience some adrenaline-rush activities as Masungi Georeserve, a popular tourist spot in Baras, Rizal, formally reopens to tourists Wednesday after seven months of lockdown.
The reopening is a move to revive its massive tourism losses amid the ongoing global health crisis.
Ben Dumaliang, a trustee of Masungi Georeserve Foundation, said they have already zero income with no tourists coming in over the past months. They were forced to release about P2 million from their personal resources each month to maintain the conservation efforts in the area and prevent its hundred workers from losing their jobs.
In support of the reopening, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat was among the first visitors to experience both the newly reopened Legacy and Discovery trails. Her presence also aims to encourage tourists to go out under the new normal.
She was joined by other officials from the Department of Tourism (DOT). Her brother, Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo, also attended the reopening, along with his wife former Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad.
“We’re always looking for ways na (makapagdevelop) mga bagong tourism products. Although (Masungi) is already (existing) pre-COVID, naidentify based on the survey na talaga ang hinahanap ng tao, open-air, mountain climbing, and one with nature,” Puyat said referring to the recent tourism survey released by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).
(We’re always looking for ways to develop new tourism products. Although Masungi is already existing pre-COVID, it was identified based on the survey that people are looking for open-air, mountain climbing, and one with nature.)
With Masungi’s proximity to Metro Manila, the tourism chief also pointed out that Metro Manila residents will finally be able to break the monotony of staying long at home and visit the area.
“Kasi yung mga iba kasi talaga gustong gusto na lumabas ng bahay (kaya) pwede sila pumunta dito,” she added.
(Because others really want to go out so they can finally visit here.)
According to Ann Dumaliang, Masungi’s project manager and management trustee, all tourists from areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified (GCQ) may now start reserving their slots at Masungi’s website www.masungigeoreserve.com.
But unlike during the pre-COVID period when the average carrying capacity of the area is 250 tourists per day, only 50 visitors per day for each trail will be accommodated in accordance with the guidelines of the national government’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF).
For those coming in groups, a slot should be composed of five to eight persons per reservation but as much as possible, groups should be ideally composed of households of close contacts in the meantime for safety.
Pre-screening forms like conservation agreement, health declaration form, and COVID-19 agreement need to be submitted online three days before the visit. These can be filled out upon securing a reservation.
Walk-ins are strictly prohibited and visitors are advised to arrive 30 minutes ahead of time.
“Park rangers may deny entry for non-compliant guests who pose risks to themselves or others,” she said.
Though outdoor visits are generally safer than indoor spaces outside visitors’ private households, Dumaliang said Masungi is not eliminating the risks entirely brought about by the deadly novel coronavirus disease. Hence, during hiking, a 1-meter distance will be implemented and the wearing of face masks is required.
“Visitors must avoid prolonged exposure of more than 15 minutes. If this is not possible, they have to move to a different location,” she added.
Dumaliang also stressed that trails in Masungi are a circuit, thus, guests are moving in a single direction which limits the chances of encountering other groups and having deliberate density control.
Reopening during a challenging time
The reopening of Masungi also comes at a time when the management recently recovered a quarried 500-hectare land, where Puyat led the reforestation activity on the same day of its reopening.
The said illegal activity happened in February prior to the Luzon-wide lockdown. Dumaliang said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its head Sec. Roy Cimatu, helped them stop the quarrying activities.
But in October, another encroacher illegally fenced a portion of Masungi’s land in the Upper Marikina Shed, also the parts of the protected area they are reforesting.
Under Proclamation 296 issued in 2001, the Marikina Watershed Reservation was declared a protected area and was renamed Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape. It was granted protection under Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992. The law mandates that the area is “protected against destructive human exploitation.”
It was later identified that Rublou Inc., a family-owned and controlled corporation by husband and wife (Ret.) Gen. Luizo C. Ticman and Ruby A. Ticman, was the one responsible for claiming ownership of the land.
Just last week, Nov. 15, the Masungi Georeserve Foundation issued a statement that it is deeply disturbed about the continuous deployment of armed guards of Rublou Inc. in hundreds of hectares of the Upper Marikina Watershed despite a DENR Show Cause Order.
Dumaliang then sought help from Puyat during her visit to ask again for the DENR’s help to finally stop the encroachment.
“If we killed the conservation work alongside sa pagkawala ng turismo (the loss of tourism), the damages would definitely be irreversible,” she said.