God. Nature. People.
It was the year 1960, long before the more recent destructive typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda. Typhoon Lucille, as it was called, caused massive flooding and devastation in Metro Manila, unlike anything the Philippines had experienced before. It left 234 dead and thousands homeless. During those fateful times, a mother, fearful of her country’s vulnerability to natural disasters, whispered in her son’s ear to plant trees in the balding mountains of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range.
Fast forward to 30 years later, that boy — Toto Malvar — was inspired by his mother and grandfather, General Miguel Malvar, also an environmentalist at heart. He left his lucrative corporate job to heed his mother’s admonition to restore Mother Earth to her former glory.
Back then, unbeknownst to many, the 26,000-plus hectare Upper Marikina Watershed was already identified as a significant piece of land due to its crucial role in mitigating the destructive effects of typhoons and heavy rainfall in Metro Manila. However, due to widespread illegal logging activities in the 1970s and 1980s, it was left barren, with a great number of old growth forests decimated. Experts declared that without a well-forested Upper Marikina Watershed, Metro Manila will be highly susceptible to catastrophic floods.
To address this problem, Toto launched a privately-sponsored pioneering reforestation project in the Upper Marikina Watershed, with Mount Purro identified as the primary site. In just a few years, 700,000 trees were successfully planted and dutifully maintained by Toto Malvar. However, partly due of the difficulties of living in the mountains, and largely due to the absence of alternative forms of livelihood for the indigenous Dumagat tribes who lived in the mountains, majority of these trees fell victim to small-scale illegal logging, kaingin farming, and charcoal-making. This led to the painful realization that in order to take care of the forest, one must first take care of the people who live in it.
In response to this critical insight, Toto designed a grassroots strategy for reforestation and watershed rehabilitation. The upland communities’ vocational and livelihood needs were prioritized, before they were engaged as partners in bringing back the glory of the forest. Mount Purro Nature Reserve, at nearby Barangay Calawis, was then created and established by Toto. Mount Purro Nature Reserve, named in commemoration of the massive reforestation efforts in Mount Purro, started out as a small bahay kubo, where families and friends can have fun and spend time together, hike in the forest, and swim in the river, while primarily becoming a social enterprise of providing alternative and non-destructive forms of livelihood to those otherwise engaged in environmentally damaging practices.
In order to take care of the Forest,
one must first take care of the People.
With much wooing, Toto was able to convince his wife Baby to join him in his mission and move from the city’s urban comforts to Antipolo’s rural charm. Together, they would prove to be a formidable team and unstoppable force. They both devoted their blood, sweat and tears to growing Mount Purro Nature Reserve. By the grace of God, they slowly transformed that bahay kubo piece by piece to a now fully operational eco-park. Admittedly and expectedly, the journey was not easy. The road was paved with plenty of heartache and much uncertainty. Yet husband and wife insist that they would not have had it any other way.
At present, husband and wife Toto and Baby, who have been formally adopted by the Dumagat Tribe, live in the Mount Purro Nature Reserve grounds, a place they fondly refer to as “The Farm.” Their family of 7 children, 7 children-in-law, and 18 apos (so far) gather together and spend most of their Sundays in The Farm, doing just what husband and wife had both envisioned: enjoying nature, spending quality time with each other, praying, while working together for the environment and community.