Drilling rigs in nature reserves: Tensions heighten as Philippine clean energy projects encroach on conservation areas

Wind and solar expansion in the archipelago could mean renewables targets are met, but it has also worried environmentalists. A proposed wind farm in the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province could impact up to a thousand hectares of karst landscape.

Nestled in the upland regions of Rizal in the Philippines, the Masungi Georeserve is a geological park and conservation area known for its distinctive limestone rock formations and stewardship of some 2,700 hectares of degraded forestland. Image: Masungi Georeserve Foundation

When drilling operations for 12 wind turbines – alongside road paving and other construction – were found in Luzon’s mountainous Rizal province and within a nature reserve home to more than 400 wildlife species earlier this year, Filipino conservationists were extremely alarmed. The nonprofit organisation that manages the site protested the development, stating that renewable energy generation should not be pursued at the expense of the environment. 

Fast forward three months later and the conflict has yet to be resolved. The Masungi Georeserve, recognised as a model for environmental protection by global bodies, is in a tussle with the Philippines government to have its reforestation project acknowledged and fights an uphill battle to get the planned wind farm project to relocate to a different site. 

The situation is emblematic of a troubling trend in the Philippines: As the country aggressively expands its renewable energy capacity to tackle a growing climate crisis, community and nature rights have been neglected. Tensions are particularly heightened when there is contest for scarce land resources.

Up to a thousand hectares of natural karst landscape could be endangered by the establishment of the wind farm project inside Masungi Georeserve, said conservation advocate Billie Dumaliang.

Dumaliang, a cofounder of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation, told Eco-Business that the drilling operations will cause irreparable damage to the area’s fragile ecosystem, already the last green corridor east of the Philippine capital of Manila.

Why are these renewable energy projects being proposed in protected areas in the first place? Surely there are alternative sites on already-developed lands that could host these facilities without threatening fragile ecosystems and critical watershed resources.

Anna Reyes, acting secretariat, Upper Marikina Watershed Coalition

“The Philippines can advance economically and expand its clean energy capacity while preserving our rich natural heritage, but simply steamrolling protected areas in the name of development is not the way to do it,” said Anna Reyes, acting secretariat of the Upper Marikina Watershed Coalition.

The welfare of the Philippines’ natural resources and national parks are secured under the now expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (E-NIPAS Act), first passed in 1992.

However, a subsequent amendment to the law has added concessions allowing the exploration and establishment of renewable energy projects in natural parks, if the Protected Area Management Board and the secretary of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) both approve it.

‘Natural capital’

Earlier this May, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr signed the Philippine Ecosystem and Natural Capital Accounting System (PENCAS) Act into law – a legislation that seeks to survey the country’s national parks and other natural resources to account for their “natural capital”. 

In a statement, DENR chief Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said that the law will prove “effective [in] natural resource management to reduce biodiversity loss, increase private sector engagement and investment”. It is unclear so far what this would mean for protected areas and nature parks, though conservationists and campaigners said that it could mean DENR mapping potential investment zones that include key biodiversity areas. 

“Protected areas should be ‘no-go’ zones in the early stages of renewable energy development planning,” urged Dumaliang.

The campaigner also called on the DENR to be “first to advocate for this exclusion of protected areas” in development plans, as part of the agency’s mandate to safeguard the country’s environment and natural resources. The Masungi Karst Conservation Area was first declared a strict nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary by the DENR in 1993 under an administrative order.

Renewable energy guidelines penned by the global conservation organisation International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and think tank Biodiversity Consultancy lobbies for solar and wind energy projects to be built solely in areas of lower conservation priority to avoid severe negative impacts on biodiversity and ensure a just transition.

Dr Bruno Oberle, director general of IUCN, explained that although the expansion of solar and wind energy is vital for a sustainable, low-carbon future, “developers must take care to ensure that these technologies do not unwillingly pose risks to nature and livelihood.”


An ark of biodiversity, the Masungi Georeserve is home to some 500 documented species of endemic wildlife including the endangered North Luzon Cloud Rat, the Luzon Tarictic Hornbill and Mottle-winged Flying Fox, among other vulnerable species. Image: Chris Sanchez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Unsplash.

“To minimise biodiversity risks, solar and wind project developers should avoid areas of high environmental significance such as protected areas and conserved areas, World Heritage sites and key biodiversity areas,” outlined the guidelines.

Similarly, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) advocates that renewable energy generation should be placed outside ecologically valuable areas.

Under a national programme, the Philippines plans to expand its renewable energy share to 35 per cent of its energy mix by 2030 and 50 per cent by 2040. Currently, its predominantly coal-reliant energy sector accounts for 54 per cent of the country’s emissions.

Across Southeast Asia, wind and solar capacity has also seen significant expansion, increasing by about 20 per cent in 2023 alone. A study estimates that some 3.1 million hectares of key biodiversity areas may be put at risk due to land-use expansion related to renewable energy.

Renewables green lane?

Masungi Georeserve is not alone in the struggle.

In the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park in the Philippines’ Visayas region, the proposed expansion of a 14-megawatt (MW) wind farm project poses a threat to crucial water resources.

In a position paper, a coalition fighting against the project alleges that the first phase of the Nabas Wind Power Project of PetroWind Energy Incorporated has inflicted irreversible consequences on the water potability and siltation of a river that runs near the site of the wind farm – the Napaan River.

The group claims the second phase of the project would exacerbate the problem by encroaching on the Daeamuan and Imbaroto Rivers – part of the larger Nabaoy River Watershed, the main source of potable water supply for the community of mainland Malay, Aklan and the island of Boracay.

“Preserving the last remaining contiguous low-lying forest in Panay Island, a sanctuary for endemic and vulnerable species, must be an unwavering priority for all of us,” underscored Protect Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park Coalition lead convenors Dr Rebecca Barrios and Ritchel Cahilig in a statement.

“We cannot be swayed by superficial solutions that are mere ‘greenwashing’ attempts, promising benefits while concealing the potentially far more costly consequences they entail. [We should] recognise that there are far more sustainable practices for generating green energy that do not entail the devastation of our rivers, communities and mountains,” they added.

Eco-Business reached out to PetroWind Energy Incorporated for comment but did not get a response.


The Nabaoy River Watershed, at some 600 metres above sea level inside the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, is the main source of potable water supply for the community of mainland Malay, Aklan and the island of Boracay. Image: , CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

“We see troubling parallels between the developments in the Upper Marikina Watershed and now the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve,” explained Reyes of the Upper Marikina Watershed Coalition, referring to two other protected areas in the Philippines. “In both cases, the unique ecological value and importance of these watershed areas seem to take a backseat, as compared to large-scale development projects.”

“It begs the question: Why are these renewable energy projects being proposed in protected areas in the first place? Surely there are alternative sites on already-developed lands that could host these facilities without threatening fragile ecosystems and critical watershed resources,” she added.

Rizal Wind Energy Corporation is reportedly the operator behind the wind farm facility inside the Masungi Georeserve, with Singapore-based energy developer Vena Energy holding a stake in the company.

In a statement sent to Eco-Business, Vena Energy said that it has adhered to all government regulations in the pursuit of the Rizal Wind Farm Project, highlighting that it secured an environmental compliance certificate issued by a regional bureau under DENR, following a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study.

The company did not respond to subsequent requests for a copy of the wind facility’s EIA study.

Just this January, the Philippine Board of Investments also awarded a “green lane” grant to Fuego Renewable Energy Corp’s 464-MW Pantabangan Floating Solar Power Plant – set to span 500 hectares on Pantabangan Lake located within the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve in landlocked Nueva Ecija province, north of Metro Manila. Pantabangan Lake inside the park is one of the largest reservoirs in Southeast Asia and one of the cleanest bodies of water in the Philippines

A “green lane” grant expedites the processing of licenses, permits and other related documents for projects with huge economic impact and aligned with the Marcos administration’s strategic investments such as renewable energy.

“The ‘green-lane’ fast-tracking of approval for these projects means less time for thorough environmental impact assessments and input from affected stakeholders. We fear that the push for economic growth and clean energy investment, while important, is overriding the critical need to protect and conserve our watershed resources,” warned Reyes.

“The degradation of these areas could have devastating long-term consequences for biodiversity, water security, and community resilience,” she continued.

The water rights advocate added that sacrificing the natural parks for short-term economic gains and a negligible amount of energy production is a “poor trade-off” – highlighting the immense carbon sequestration potential of forested conservation areas.

“The pursuit of a greener future must be accompanied by a steadfast commitment to the preservation and responsible stewardship of our environment, ensuring that progress aligns harmoniously with nature,” urged the Protect Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park Coalition.

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