The rehabilitation of the Upper Marikina River Basin


Ondoy, never again!

This is the battle cry after Typhoon Ondoy wrought havoc in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal and Laguna in September, 2009. Typhoon Ondoy left at least 73 persons dead, displaced nearly 70,000 families, and brought about immense damage to structures and properties. The Ondoy devastation was caused by an unusually high level of precipitation. The heavy rains it dumped were aggravated by the situation of the forests in the adjacent mountain range which could have prevented the rush of the waters to the lowlands. The deforestation, nay destruction, of the Sierra Madre range was blamed as one of the major reasons for the Ondoy disaster.

Sorry state of the Sierra Madre

Sierra Madre, the longest mountain range in the country, serves as Luzon’s protection from typhoons coming from the east or the Pacific Ocean. But its effectiveness has been greatly diminished. Its sorry state is brought about by uncontrolled logging, slash-and-burn farming, and mining and quarrying. The continued destruction of the then biodiversity-rich forest will result in more devastating floods if nothing will be done for its protection and rehabilitation.

The Marikina River Basin or Marikina Watershed is part of the Sierra Madre range. With an area of 67,409 hectares, it is in the northeastern part of the Rizal province. Due to its proximity to the urban Metro Manila area, it has seen better days. Its namesake city, Marikina City, was the most devastated by Ondoy.

Presidential Proclamation No. 296

Clamor for the Sierra Madre’s or the Marikina watershed’s protection and rehabilitation made President Benigno S. Aquino III, upon the recommendation of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, issue the Presidential Proclamation No. 296. The said proclamation declared the Marikina Watershed Reservation, situated in the City of Antipolo and in the Municipalities of Baras, Rodriguez, San Mateo, and Tanay, all in the province of Rizal, as Protected Area pursuant to Republic Act No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, known as the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape or the UMRBPL. Aquino signed the proclamation on November 24, 2011.

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The UMRBPL covers an area of 26,125.64 hectares in Barangays Calawis, San Jose and San Juan in Antipolo City, Barangay Pinugay in the Municipality of Baras, Barangays Mascap, Puray and San Rafael in Rodriguez, Barangay Pintong Bocaue in San Mateo, and Barangay Cuyambay in Tanay, all in the Province of Rizal.

Protected Area Management Board

Faced with the formidable task, the DENR pushed for the strengthening of the existing Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). Chaired by the DENR Region 4A CALABARZON Executive Director at the helm, the PAMB members included the Chief Executives of the City of Antipolo and the Municipalities of Baras, Rodriguez, San Mateo and Tanay, and the Chairpersons of the abovementioned barangays.

The PAMB also included the following: Mayors of Pasig City, Quezon City and Marikina City; Dumagat-Remontado Indigenous Peoples, Tanay group; Miriam PEACE; private sector interest groups such as United Neighbors Philippines, Inc., Community-Based Kaunlaran Development Foundation of Antipolo City, Philippine Disaster for Recovery Foundation (PDRF); and other government agencies such as Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Project Management Office

PAMB Chairman, DENR CALABARZON Regional Executive Director (RED) Reynulfo Juan started with the organization of a project management team. Juan designated Rizal Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Raymundo Crisostomo as concurrent Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) and head of the Project Management Office (PMO). Forester Aida R. Ceniza was designated as Assistant PASu. Crisostomo has formed his nine-member project technical team and established its physical base.

On orders of the DENR Secretary to effectively protect the forests and other natural resources of the UMRBPL, the PMO was established in Sitio Baytangan in Pintong Bocaue, San Mateo. It has become operational after the inauguration which was timed with the 77th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Representing DENR Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje, Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Marcial C. Amaro graced the inauguration with Gen. Miguel Jose Rodriguez, also representing AFP Chief of Staff General Jessie Dellosa. RED Juan and Regional Technical Director for Protected Areas, Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management Service (PAWCZMS) Arnulfo Z. Hernandez were also present.

The PMO as main, four other patrol bases were established in So. Toyang, Brgy. Mascap and So. Wawa, Brgy. San Rafael in Rodriguez; in Brgy. Kaysakat in Antipolo City, in So. Batangas, Brgy. Cuyambay in Tanay. 30 Bantay Gubat operatives from the community were conscripted to man the patrol bases.

Comprehensive management plan for the UMRBPL

The RED, with the PAMB, then pushed for the preparation of a comprehensive management plan for the UMRBPL. This plan has been presented to the Secretary, and has been approved for implementation. The same was prepared to serve as an indicative planning document and roadmap that would identify the roles of stakeholders, as well as the tasks to be undertaken to protect, conserve, rehabilitate and sustainably manage the protected area.

The Sierra Madre forest back to its best state

President PNoy wanted to bring back the forest to its best state. He recognized the importance of healthy forests in the prevention of floods. While banning logging in natural forests by issuing Executive Order No. 23, he also issued Executive Order No. 26, launching the National Greening Program (NGP). The NGP aimed to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of degraded public forestlands.

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje explained that the primary objectives of the greening program are to increase forest cover, reduce forest degradation, hasten forest rehabilitation, and involve the local community in the rehabilitation while dissuading them from undertaking activities which could degrade the forest or social fencing.

1,120 hectares for National Greening Program

In the UMRBPL, some 1,120 hectares of planting sites will form part of the NGP this year.

alternative livelihoodPENRO/PASu Crisostomo encouraged the mobilization of the residents in the area who were previously involved in the charcoal-making and kaingin-farming activities within the protected area. He said that some of them are employed in specific activities of the NGP such as nursery establishment and maintenance, reforestation or actual tree planting, bench terrace maintenance, ring weeding and cultivation, and fireline establishment.

Crisostomo admitted to have defied tradition in the implementation of reforestation efforts as he introduces innovations. He said that he prefers, and has done, on-site production of seedlings in plantation areas. If not locally produced, he insisted planting materials are delivered to proposed planting areas three months before planting for acclimatization and hardening process. These, he said, will ensure high survival rate when outplanted. He also urged the use of discard soft drinks bottles transformed into “swero” for drip-watering the seedlings.

rarongCrisostomo, who served as PENRO in Palawan, brought with him a native tradition in transporting seedlings. He caused the production of “rarong,” a backpack crafted from rattan which can accommodate 30-40 seedlings depending on its size as well as the capacity of the person who would carry the same. He emphasized that the rarong saves the seedlings from damage and further stress.

“As much as possible, it would be better if we do direct seeding instead of the plastic potted seedlings coming from elsewhere,” he said.

“Una, makakatipid tayo sa plastic bag. Second, once na tumubo na ang mga seedlings, tuluy tuloy na ‘yon hindi na kailangan ng period of adjustment, period na kailangan mai-establish ang root system n’ya. Kasi pagtubo niya established na agad ang root system niya. At makikita na napakaganda talaga, for sure hundred percent survivals,” he continued. He experimented with seeds of some common edible fruit bearing trees as Kasuy, Santol, Avocado and Caimito at the vicinity of the PMO in Sitio Baytangan.

Infrastructure for nursery irrigation and flood control

nurseryCrisostomo also found it necessary to establish nurseries near a water source, and construct small water impounding dams to collect water for the seedlings. Aside from irrigation support for the nursery, the water can likewise be used for vegetable farms and orchard. Moreover, the pond can be a source of protein in the uplands as it could be seeded with upland fish or tilapia.

“While we wait for the planted seedlings to secure their roots and grow up, we will depend for now on the check dams during the rainy season to mitigate the effects of the flood,” Crisostomo stressed.

The small water impounding ponds or dams do not only serve as source of water, the same also serve as important structures to mitigate flooding. Constructed in a series of strategic points along the whole stretch of the river, these structures, also called as check dams, lessen the speed of the impact of the rampaging waters during heavy downpour. The excess water is then absorbed by the earth, and refills the aquifers.

small water impounding check dam“Ang check dam ang pangunahing infrastructure project para sa flood control. Ang purpose po ng dam ay para ma-break ang velocity ng tubig at saka maimpound ang tubig para hindi ito didiretso kaagad sa mga low land areas,” explained Engr. Jonathan Navales, Check Dam Project Officer.

Crisostomo claimed the the dams also serve as soil conservation and erosion control. The check dams in Sitios Apia and Pulang Panyo both in Antipolo City, and in Sitios Casili and Amyanan, Brgy. Pintong Bocaue in San Mateo seemed to be useful in reducing soil erosion. The check dam also serves as silt pond which controls sediments from reaching the lowland, and preserves the soil that could have flowed directly to the lowlands.

While check dams are serving the purpose, the stream banks and steep hillsides are correspondingly subjected to rehabilitation activities.

rehab umrbplCocomatting or use of coconut coir, and planting of vetiver grass is employed to hold soil and enhance land cover. Gabions made from materials like galvanized wire, rocks and cement were used in some areas such as in Brgy. Pintong Bocaue. Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) was introduced to some upland farmers for food crops and for soil stabilization. Bench terracing and hedgerows planting were established using vetiver grass and Kakawate (Gliricidia sepium). The terraces were interplanted with different cash crops like squash, string beans, cassava, sweet potato, pineapple, banana, and others, and fruit bearing trees such as cashew and rimas.

Maintenance activities

The seedlings planted in 2012 and this year, and those seedlings to be planted until 2016, need special care and extensive maintenance activities such as strip brushing, ring weeding and replanting in order to reduce its risk of mortality, particularly in open areas.

Establishment of fire breaks is also a must. Crisostomo reported that, a 15-kilometer by 8-meter fire break traversing the planted areas was constructed in Sitio San Ysiro. Furthermore, a 5-meter fire break was established in So. Amyanan, Brgy. Pintong Bocaue. All planting sites will have firebreaks to prevent fire outbreak, especially during the dry months.

What now, UMRBPL?

The NGP implementation in CALABARZON region reports a total of 5,903 hectares rehabilitated with 3,581,500 seedlings planted in 2011, and 10,140.51 hectares with 5,906,275 seedlings in 2012. Geotagging of the planted areas is currently being undertaken.

Geotagging will also be done in the 22,326-hectare area targeted for rehabilitation, with 11,163,000 seedlings this year. Survey, mapping and planning, preparation for planting, securing of seedlings, and mobilization of volunteer planters have been assured for the planting activities which started at the onset of rain in May, 2013.

NGP target for the whole Province of Rizal is 8,300 hectares. Specifically for the UMRBPL, a total of 1,200 hectares will be planted with 600,000 seedlings.

Strengthening the PAMB

The PAMB-UMRBPL conducted a cross visit to Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) National Park, and exchanged experiences with the PAMB-PPUR and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

The Board gleaned lessons on the best practices in the sustainable management, financing, development and protection of the PPUR, and internalized appropriate management strategies that could be applied at the UMRBPL.


“What happened three years ago remains vivid to each and every one of us. The damage, the loss, the emotional scars are still there, particularly to those who have lost their love ones. But somehow it taught us some good lessons to be more resilient in light of natural disasters,” said PAMB-UMRBPL Chair Juan, echoing what Secretary Paje said during the early days of the UMRBPL.

He appreciated the collective efforts of the PAMB members, not only in rehabilitating the protected area and the environment, but also in capacitating the people in disaster risk reduction.