Mount Makiling Forest Reserve: Legendary mountain becomes Southeast Asia’s newest ‘natural jewel’


Mount Makiling Forest Reserve: Legendary mountain becomes Southeast Asia’s newest ‘natural jewel’




In September 2013, environment ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) approved the nomination of Mount Makiling Forest Reserve (MMFR) in Laguna province as the 33rd ASEAN Heritage Park (AHP). The approval came a month before the country hosted the 4th AHP Conference, an annual meeting of heritage park managers, biodiversity experts, policymakers and scientists, and other stakeholders in the management and conservation of the region’s most treasured parks.


The MMFR is the fifth AHP in the Philippines and so far the only designated regional heritage park in the Luzon mainland. The four other AHPs in the country are the Mount Apo Natural Park, Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park, and Mount Malindang Range Natural Park, all in Mindanao, and the Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park in Occidental Mindoro province in the Visayas. 

Why was the MMFR declared an AHP?


Popular park run by the academe


The MMFR is perhaps one of the most well-known mountains in the country. It covers 4,244.37 hectares, spanning the cities of Los Baños and Calamba and the equally famous Laguna de Bay, and the town of Sto. Tomas in Batangas province. It is therefore quite accessible to the populous regions of Metro Manila and the CALABARZON.

The following are some of the reasons why the MMFR is famous: 

  • Known as the home of the lady Mariang Makiling, a well-known figure of Filipino folklore. The mountain’s profile is said to be hers in a reclining position.
  • Popular among tourists who want to avail of the relaxing and therapeutic effects of the hot springs that abound in the area.
  • Houses the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) campus that specializes in forestry and the natural resources, as well as other facilities like campsite for the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, the Philippine High School for the Arts and the Makiling Botanic Gardens, which showcases the many and varied flora and fauna found on the mountain. 
  • Accessible destination for amateur and professional mountaineers or mountain trekkers.
  • Home to esteemed international organizations such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), as well as local institutions like the UP Los Baños and the Philippine Council for Agriculture and the Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).


Unknown to many, Makiling is an inactive volcano as shown by its geothermal features like mud and hot springs. Although its last eruption occurred probably in the first or second centuries, it has been classified as a “potential active” volcano, with its broken caldera forming three peaks. 


The mountain used to be known as the Mount Makiling National Park, declared as such in 1933 under Proclamation 552, until it was decommissioned and turned over to the UPLB for administration under Republic Act Nos. 3523 and 6967. Under these laws, the university was vested exclusive jurisdiction and complete control of the MMFR to be used as training laboratory for advancement of scientific and technical knowledge on natural resources conservation and watershed protection.

An important Conservation Site


Among the reasons why the MMFR plays an important role in conserving floral and faunal biodiversity in the Philippines are the following:

  • Identified as one of the country’s 18 centers of plant diversity by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
  • Considered as a high biodiversity conservation priority by the DENR, Conservation International and the University of the Philippines
  • One of the 32 key ecotourism sites identified by the Department of Tourism, in coordination with the DENR
  • The country’s only botanic garden registered with international organizations and plays a key role in global plant conservation
  • Each of its four sub-watersheds has important features: Cambantoc has its mossy forests; Molawin-Dampalit has the largest number of streams; Greater Sipit has the most pristine forests; while Tigbi’s water resources recharge aquifers. 
  • Home to a large number of biological species, several of which are considered threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Of these, 62 species are endemic to the Philippines, with 14 restricted to the Greater Luzon Faunal region. Some of the species whose presence have been confirmed in the MMFR include the Philippine eagle owl (Bubo philippinensis), Philippine pygmy fruit bat (Haploncyteris fischeri), and the Philippine monkey (Macaca fascicularis philippensis).


With recognition comes support and additional responsibilities


The AHP Programme, for which the ACB serves as secretariat, was conceptualized to foster cooperation among the member countries in implementing mechanisms to conserve protected areas within the region. It focuses on principles of sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, and promoting the importance of natural resources while providing opportunities for human activities such as recreation, tourism, education and research.


DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said the recognition of the MMFR as a regional heritage came as a “pleasant surprise” considering that the legendary mountain has been a “living laboratory for scholars and scientists,” while at the same time exposed to various human activities that threaten its biodiversity.


Aside from being a popular tourist destination, the slopes of Makiling also play host to a large human population, both permanent (Laguna residents) and transient (workers and university students).

Paje said that although branding the forest reserve as an AHP distinguishes it from other protected areas in the country, it also calls for additional responsibilities for its protection and conservation.


He pointed out that its stewards and stakeholders face the task of maintaining if not further enhancing its pristine condition despite threats, both human and natural.

They nevertheless are assured of additional support from local and international communities, particularly the ASEAN neighbors, he added.


“We are optimistic that this will spur enhanced coordination and foster greater cooperation among stakeholders to ensure the long-term protection and conservation of this well-loved mountain,” Paje stressed.