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Sister saviors of Masungi

Jojo G. Silvestre



illustration by glenzkie tolo

Once again, the Philippines takes center stage in the world arena of sustainable development and tourism.

Thanks to two sisters, Ann Adeline “Ann” and Billie Crystal “Billie” G. Dumaliang, who were both recently recognized as winners, along with four others, of Vanity Fair’s 2021 Changing Your Mind Tourism Awards.

‘DAILY Tribune’s’ Jom Garner negotiates the climb; Below, Wrenn Sanchez and Sundy Locus appreciate the rock formations.

Ann and Billie, who are featured in the current Hollywood issue of the internationally acclaimed glossy magazine, have been cited for their dedicated and zealous work in preserving and protecting hundreds of hectares of rainforest in the karst landscape of Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal.

Billie Dumaliang: My personal interest is in sustainable development and innovation. This is my calling.

According to the Vanity Fair article, the two sisters have been at the forefront of rewilding the vast lands that had, for the longest time, already been depleted by deforestation and quarrying.

Among the efforts of Ann and Billie were establishing monitoring trails and integrating the local community to protect the site.

Ann and Billie have since opened the area where visitors learn about the imperatives of environmental protection while appreciating limestone peaks, cave systems and lush rain forests.

ANN Dumaliang: It’s an opportunity to save a place I’ve grown up in and learned to love. since my youth.

According to the Vanity Fair article, the sisters did not only erect signposts but “dreamt up spectacular ways of exploring the region… by (connecting) rock formations with hanging rope bridges and eco-trails, offering aerial views of the karsts below and panoramics of the Sierra Madre.

There’s an elevated viewing deck in the shape of a spider’s web; a gigantic rope hammock spanning a few hundred meters; and a viewpoint on the summit of the park’s tallest peak.”

Even before the award was announced, a Daily Tribune team, composed of social set editor Jojo G. Silvestre, Jomelle Garner, Sundy Locus and Wrenn Sanchez visited the site and interviewed Ann and Billie, along with their father Ben, whose visionary outlook and pioneering efforts inspired his daughters to pursue this lifelong mission of environmental preservation.

Graduates of the Ateneo de Manila University, Ann and Billie have been the recipients of numerous awards since their college days. Both are 2020 Tatler Gen T List honorees, while Anne is a National Geographic Young Explorer, World Economic Forum Global Shaper and United Nations Regional Young Champion. Billie was one of 2014 Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) and, in 2014, she was chosen as the Most Outstanding Jose Rizal Model Student of the Philippines.


TAKING a breather from life at this majestic landscape.


Our interview follows:
Daily Tribune (DT): Why did you choose to work in Masungi and not in any other institution?
Ann Dumaliang (AD): It’s an opportunity to save a place I’ve grown up in and learned to love since my youth. I also thought that the Philippines has such wonderful natural heritage that would be a waste not to save and put front and center. It would be exciting to help showcase that through conservation and geotourism.

Billie Dumaliang (BD): It was a natural decision for me. My personal interest is in sustainable development and innovation, at the same time my family was already involved in the conservation of Masungi. It was a calling.

DT: What is your current position in Masungi? How do you personally contribute to achieving its purpose mission? (Did you divide the tasks between you two?)
AD: We’re both managing trustees in Masungi Georeserve taking care of day-to-day operations of the organization and complementing each other in most all activities. While Billie is generally more active on the advocacy’s communication front, I am generally more involved with site operations.

Creating a sustainable destination in Masungi is all about protection, education and sustainable development. At this time, our focus is on protecting and restoring some 2,700 hectares of land around Masungi with the guidance of this model. This entails a strong and able team capable of conducting various aspects of holistic conservation area management. Along with our teammates and rangers, we make sure these are covered and moving.

BD: I am the advocacy officer and a managing trustee. Both Ann and I are engaged in day-to-day operations as well as long-term  items. Generally, Ann takes care of the overall management and operations while I manage the communications and advocacy front.

Recognized by global experts

DT: What do you consider your greatest accomplishments in your work in Masungi?
AD: These are getting the brand started and sustainably operated, while hurdling difficult decisions along the way that stays true to conservation. Building a movement around Masungi that calls not just for its protection but that also brings hope to where we can take the Philippines is something I am happy about.

MASUNGI’S sister saviors, Ann and Billie Dumaliang lecturing to guests.

BD: We have received some of the biggest awards and commendations in environment conservation and sustainable tourism in the world, despite being a relatively young organization with meager resources.

Our work and team have been recognized by the UN Development Program, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, UN World Tourism Organization, World Travel and Tourism Council and Global Water Partnership in their flagship award programs. For global experts to recognize our work and for us to be able to raise the country’s flag in these stages was definitely a highlight of my work.

DT: If you were to convince anyone why they should come visit Masungi, what would you tell them?
AD: Masungi Georeserve is a product of two decades of restoration and dedication fueled by love and hard work.

We created the trails in an effort to bring more people to love it similar to the way we do and to enable it to survive for years to come. If you would like to explore a 60-million-year-old karst landscape, learn more about restoration, rekindle your relationship with nature and support conservation and sustainability in the Philippines, we would love to welcome you over.

ANA and Billie’s father, Ben Dumaliang explains to Jojo Silvestre the role of the Masungi Geo-reserve as a watershed for the eastern part of Metro Manila.

BD: If you need a breather in life, and want to meet people passionate in protecting one of the special places in the Philippines, then visit us at Masungi Georeserve!

DT: How prepared are you for this job? What aspects of your education have been useful to you?
AD: I studied management in Ateneo de Manila University. This helped me navigate the path towards sustainable operations and sound organizational practices. It made me comfortable with bringing multiple fields of expertise in accomplishing a goal.  Protecting large areas foundationally require proper management after all. While this did prepare me, there is nothing like learning while doing the work on the ground. It’s what gives you a real idea of the problems and solutions needed.

BD: I have been a student leader since high school, so that helps me manage a team and achieve goals. While I consider myself an introvert and a reluctant leader, I often find myself in situations where I am called to lead.

Since grade school, I have also been somewhat of a perfectionist. I have always aimed for the perfect score, all the time. While I have learned through the years that making mistakes is natural, my academic experience and the guidance of my parents helped me nurture a personal culture of excellence.


Foodies and travelers

DT:  You have your interests and passions like photography. How do they help you in your jobs. How do you unwind outside of your work? Or does your work allow you to relax and reenergize?

AD: Outside of work, I unwind through travel, food and just spending quality time with loved ones. In addition to nature, I particularly enjoy design, architecture, and experiencing unique things, and learning something new. All these also inspire our work.

BD: My sisters and I love to travel, eat food and learn new things. New experiences and new chances to learn pique my interest. I get bored easily. I think learning, thinking freely and feeding my curiosity is how I relax.

DT:  What do you feel that you lack in terms of qualifications and how are you making up for the lack?

AD:  I am not a scientist or a technical person though I make up for this by consciously involving and openly learning from people who are experts in their fields. When we were just getting started, I recall being in a room with Neil Tyson de Grasse, Sylvia Earle, Bob Ballard and Enric Sala for National Geographic. On another couch was an astronaut who had been outside of the Earth, explorers who have just gotten back from the Amazons, and veteran conservationists who have discovered many new species. I almost fainted and I had never even been starstruck before.

BD: I am more of a diplomat and a peace-maker. But in this work, I need to stand up and fight, and face conflict head-on. For this, I look for mentors around me to emulate. I also practice mental models to keep myself focused on the work to be done.


Forming coalitions

DT: What have been your personal challenges while performing your responsibilities in Masungi?

AD: I used to plan more heavily than I do now. In the conservation work that we do especially with enforcement components, we need to be able to respond quickly, be flexible, adjust on the fly.

BD: The job is high-stakes. Since we have been going up against entrenched and conflicting interests in areas meant for reforestation or conservation, the job involves many risks. The more we face these complex challenges the more we learn and become stronger.

DT: What are the top three greatest challenges (if any) for Masungi today and how do you intend to surmount these challenges?
AD: We take our responsibilities seriously and we believe in our cause. This is hard work and not play, even if we are enjoying what we are doing, and that’s because it is our passion. Anything that unreasonably gets in the way of the fulfillment of our mission is of course a challenge. We just have to be vigilant. My sister and I share the same sentiment.

BD: I will be explicit and vocal. Our project sites are heavily threatened by quarrying, land grabbing and political interests. We cannot overcome these alone. Our focus will be on saving Masungi together and forming coalitions to break inertia.

Manong Hardinero

DT: How does your father, Ben, inspire you? It was, of course, he who got all this started.

AD: Our dad is gentle-natured, level-headed, hardworking and down to earth.He’s never flashy and has always shown his love and proven himself through his results and actions. It’s not unusual for guests on the trails to tell me about a “Manong Hardinero” who’s working on the plants and talking so passionately about the place. It is hard not to get inspired by him. We grew up seeing his dedication, integrity and his wide-eyed optimism despite challenges and that has influenced so much of who we are.Save for staying true to values and principles and taking action when it’s needed, he doesn’t really have marching orders. He’s always allowed us to grow and pave our own path.

BD: My father, as anybody who knows the man would say, is a genius. He is also very humble. He will do what is right even if it takes the hardest and most difficult route to get there.We may disagree but I tend to respect his views. I know they come from wisdom and decades of experience.

DT: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
AD: Ten years from now, I see Masungi Georeserve and the Masungi Geopark Project restored and protected. I see myself contributing further to innovation, conservation and tourism in the country and beyond.

BD: I hope to continue conserving Masungi, but at the same time, dabble in more entrepreneurial work