Sean Michael S. Caguiwa

Time and time again, the country is in a state of whiplash after constant typhoons and onslaughts, thanks to its geological position. These forces of nature are no joke, to say the least, but farmers, fishermen, youth, and indigenous people continue to be the subjects of the archipelago’s safety. But in contrast to the Cagayan to Quezon protector, her own recipients leave her no mercy.

CALM THE STORM: Giving justice to Sierra Madre’s lush saving grace
Photo Courtesy of Oliver Marquez/PNA / J Kahlil Panopio/The Haribon Foundation / DOF

With a vastness spreading 540 kilometers and passing through three regions, the Sierra Madre mountain range has been there for the Philippines since the beginning. But even if tensions seem to have been laid low, there are still gentle reminders to care for the green that saves us from the storm, literally. The range has garnered countless testimonies like Super Typhoon Karding's onslaught being shielded to save 17 million brood stock in Central Luzon.

Even with all this under her name, history paints the formation as an unsung green hero, with the same Filipinos choosing to stay silent about her saving.

Sierra Madre’s history

Regarded as one of the Philippines’ most biodiverse places, it gives all the more reason to preserve the lush scenery. Because, in reality, it boasts the biggest surviving tract of rainforest, accounting for 40% of the country’s forest cover. With that amount of greenery, it is home to at least 201 species of mammals, 556 types of birds, 85 species of amphibians, and 252 species of reptiles, all of which are endemic or critically endangered due to man-made activities like deforestation, residential housing, and illegal hunting. 

Aside from housing astonishing animals like the Philippine Bald Eagle, it is also home to the last hunter-gatherer group, collectively known as Agta. This has been their home for almost 35,000 years. This shows that the rainforest is indelibly home to the deepest roots the archipelago can ever go to.

Notwithstanding the Christian beliefs of the country, Sierra Madre even became the answer to previous ancestors as the protector of Luzon. The myth consists of a woman named Sierra lying along the coastline to protect her sons from the jealous wrath of Bugsong Hangin’s third-party love. The multi-region protector in the folklore and reality shows the history of her protection from animals and indigenous tribes.

The role of the mountain range

Knowing her vast history, the same can be said about the natural formation and its area coverage. The Sierra Madre boasts 1.4 million hectares of mountains with slopes and curves like no other. These two sentences alone tell a multitude of stories when it comes to saving countless Filipinos.

According to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), typhoons harvest their strength when they are directly below massive warm oceans, ultimately serving as a power-up. But once again, thanks to the rain forest, when typhoons are predicted to run through Luzon, the extensive land serves as the indomitable spirit of the country fighting back to protect its people.

In addition to this, Sierra Madre also regulates water flow and soil to reduce further typhoon-related catastrophes. Furthermore, its geography protects Central Luzon by breaking the cyclone’s eye and, in turn, slowing down wind speeds. Without technology, ancient Filipinos, in their myths, have shown the true nature of this geological wonder.

The center of the problem

This article has extensively narrated the history and features of the majestic mountain range, but the crux of the problem and main point starts here. In light of more dry spells, the Philippines is preparing to face an imminent water shortage crisis that can be felt this year. Ex-president Rodrigo Duterte's administration 2022 conceptualized their long-term solution, the P12.2 billion Kaliwa Dam Project, to ease water difficulties by supplying at least 600 million liters of water every day.

Despite the seemingly generous effort, its drawbacks outweigh the positives on a damning scale. After all, it will be built in the Kaliwa Watershed, designated as a forest reserve and a national wildlife sanctuary. Various tribes have voiced their outcry at the proclamation.

This is because experts forecast the loss of their natural resources and it is also predicted that the government will promise new homes, yet it will be difficult for these people to support themselves because the rainforest is their only home.

Not only are the individuals residing in Kaliwa affected, but the aforementioned countless endangered species that live in the Sierra Madre, which is the only safe space they have ever known, will be subjected to the project.

In addition to this, the Haribon Foundation, which is for natural resources conservation,  acknowledges that Metro Manila has genuine worries about water security but underscores the fact that these concerns should not be prioritized over human rights, the environment, Philippine laws, and sovereignty. This reflects previous sentiments and other environmental activist group protests.

This is why there is all the more reason to save Sierra Madre. From housing indigenous tribes that showcase the Filipino roots of pre-Spanish colonization to protecting the Philippines from typhoons, the rainforest does it all. After all, it is the country’s richest in genetics, species, and habitat diversity.

Equity amid no mercy

With September 26, or “Save Sierra Madre Day,” more and more people sought to remember its importance and call out any projects that would harm the backbone of Luzon. The Kaliwa Dam is not a unique occurrence; logging, land grabbing, quarrying, and mining also contribute to the destruction.

That is why environmental defenders are raising their voices to protect the rainforest. Their herculean efforts come from activism that encourages reform and discourages the government from continuing further megaprojects like this. 

More and more requests are garnering votes to support advocates and campaigns to stop forest conversions and join government programs for tree planting. Just seven months ago, marches were still active, like the Dumagat-Remontados community, to oppose the multi-billion peso project.

“No amount of money will compensate for destroying our forests and sacred grounds. We are opposing Kaliwa Dam because our culture is priceless,” said their leader, Conchita Calzado, in a Philippine Star interview.

With a multitude of environmental problems plaguing the country today, the Sierra Madre mountain range serves as a protector that continues to protect tribes, endangered species, and the country from natural disasters like typhoons. September 26 is a day that serves as a reminder for Filipinos to commemorate the formation. When the Sierra Madre calms the storm, the masses become the beacon to give justice to its saving grace.


Sean Michael S. Caguiwa is a Grade 10 student at the Emiliano Tria Tirona Memorial National Integrated High School in Cavite Province. He is the Science and Technology editor of the school’s campus journalism club, The Lightseekers. The 15-year-old has received several accolades at press conferences for three different writing categories and is now a part of Explained PH through its volunteer program.