More than passion, its blind faith.
When I received the call from Ford Philippines PR Department, offering a day trip for 4 persons to Mt. Purro Nature Reserve, using the new Ford Everest Titanium 4WD, I accepted immediately! It’s not everyday that a manufacturer lends you their top of the line SUV, with a resort trip to boot? Besides, a day out with the family is always a welcome occasion.
Early next Sunday, we were off to Antipolo. Well, we were in for a surprise. What we thought was an ordinary nature hike turn out to a more meaningful revelation.
Mt. Purro Nature Reserve
For starters, it’s not your typical resort. It’s actually a conservation site that caters to the Dumagats of Antipolo, Rizal area.
The Dumagat is centuries-old tribe that inhabit the Sierre Madre mountain ranges. Since the Dumagats are basically Nomads, they till the land and plant crops, leave for another site and after almost a year, go back to the original site to harvest the crops. Over several centuries, this practice led to the subdividing of the tribe and subsequently, went to other locations along the Sierra Madre, where they established independent communities. Dumagats are now located in Pangasinan Mountains, Doña Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan, as well as Rizal Province.
The tribes and their lands are protected by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) (RA 8371). This is a legislation that recognize and promote all the rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines. The IPRA Law designated some 13,000 hectares of mountain land to the Rizal-based Dumagats. Now composed of over 600 families, they use the land without outside interference. (Ancestral Domain).
The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is the agency of the national government of the Philippines that is responsible for protecting the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines, which includes the Igorots and Aetas in Luzon.
The Story behind the establishment of the Mt Purro Reserve
Illegal loggers, of all people, discovered the Rizal Dumagats. After World War II, wood was in demand in other asian countries, and the logging industry was in full swing. Loggers in the Rizal province ran into tribesmen, and actually made news that time. But decades of illegal logging took their toll, denuding the forest of precious trees that acted as buffer against torrential rains that flowed down from the mountains, and flooded low-lying areas. It was these calamities that caught the attention of a Ateneo-educated young professional. He initiated an effort to replant trees in the area to minimize erosion. Little did he know that this effort will continue and grow in the years to come. His name is Mr. Alberto “Toto” M. Malvar.
While he worked in the corporate world after graduating 1969, Toto never forgot about the Dumagats and their plight. His initial efforts, aside from teaching them tree-planting, was establishing a community with houses made out of indigenous materials. He also wanted to save the ancient values and culture from being swallowed by modern practices. So after almost 20 years of working in the corporate world, (2 years as Undersecretary of Human Settlements under the Cory Administration), he established the Mt. Purro Nature Reserve.
Mang Toto knew that the main causes of the plight of the Dumagats, were the lack of education and livelihood programs. Planting trees was one of the primary projects that Mang Toto started as a way to prevent landslides and floods. Together with his wife, Mrs. Azucena “Baby” San Gabriel Malvar, they put their resources together to establish a basic community, complete with road access, a small school, a medical clinic and basic livelihood projects. Mang Toto knew he needed a lot of help.
Although coming from a well to do family, Mang Toto knew only too well that the family finances couldn’t sustain the reserve, so the Malvar family officially joined the MPNR. It’s a resort all right, but more of immersion rather than relaxation. Here, the Dumagats display their wares and way of life; cooking with bamboos, making spices from the local flora and fauna, and showing cooking techniques that is done all by feel or estimation, since they do not have measuring utensils.
But more than these, the Malvars want to preserve the way of life and culture of the Dumagats. Since the proximity of the tribe to the lowlands was getting smaller, the townsfolk have picked up modern influences such as electricity and medicines. While this is a welcome development, Mang Toto feared that the culture of the Dumagats might be fading slowly to oblivion. So he helped establish a “Community of Elders”, where old tribe leaders told their stories that were passed down from generation to generation, recording them for posterity.
Meeting with Mang Toto
We were fortunate enough to personally meet with Mang Toto about an hour before lunchtime. Mang Toto makes it a point to meet with customers, to discuss the menu for the day or answer any questions about the reserve. Armed with a constant smile, Mang Toto would regal about the whole community, how they are preserving the vegetation and totally living the Dumagat way of life. Sure, modern accoutrements are welcome, but it’s not vital to maintain the culture.
When Mang Toto learned that our trip was sponsored by Ford Philippines, his eyes literally lit up. He stood up and got something from the display area and proudly showed it to us. It was a Conservation and Environmental Grants Award from none other than Mr. Terry J. Emrick, President of Ford Philippines, that was awarded to Mr. Malvar back in 1999. It was 2 years after Ford made a comeback in the Philippine market. It stated the appreciation of all the efforts of Toto Malvar and his family for the Dumagats.
“Ford Philippines was one of the first multinational company that supported us. Their financial grant of PHP 500,000 was used to build 300 houses for the Dumagats, using indigenous materials like bamboo and leaves. It was a proud moment, knowing that they were just starting to settle in the Philippine market. Despite that, FORD’s CSR effort that focused on the tribe was impressive and touching.” stated Mang Toto.
Still a long way to go
When asked what his immediate plans are, Mang Toto stated, “In 3 years, we want to establish an independent community – Complete with medical care, safe drinking water, a big septic tank and yes, proper nutrition – the Dumagats, with their seemingly impressive cuisine, are actually malnourished, primarily because of lack of primary food groups. We also want to establish a more permanent housing for the families here.”
Today, Mang Toto and his family still supervise the reserve, a testament to their commitment to the Dumagat cause. To say that this is a family effort is an understatement. Aside from matriarch Mrs. Baby SG Malvar, his sons are also actively participating in the MPNR; Antonio Miguel “Toton” SG Malvar, handles business development, and Alberto Teodoro “TJ” SG Malvar M.D. who runs the foundation and also supervises the medical needs of the tribe, handling the clinic and the pharmacy. Dr. TJ recommends modern medicine for emergency cases, but he also encourages the traditional herbal medicines that they have been using for centuries.
Financing the Mt. Purro Reserve
The MPNR Foundation still needs help. Aside from much needed medicines, contributions for the housing project are welcome, since the profits of the reserve barely covers the majority of expenses. One immediate need is an ambulance to transport patients to the city, since its about 10 kilometers from the highway to the reserve.
When asked what inspires him to help the Dumagats to this day, Mang Toto simply said “Blind Faith to restore nature and help the Dumagats”.
That is one worthy cause from the heart.
Support the MPNR foundation and visit the Mount Purro Nature Reserve, Barangay Calawis, Antipolo City, Philippines
Activities include Hiking Trail · Nature Preserve · Bed and Breakfast
If you want to donate to the foundation , please contact Mr. Alberto M. Malvar. (02) 8542 3005
Text/Images by Earl Manalansan