Sec. Lopez leads Ligawasan Marsh greening program

Environment Secretary Regina Lopez meets with Ustadz Mohammad Yacob, executive director of the Bangsamoro Development Agency, during her visit in Maguindanao to rally the people to protect the Ligawasan Marsh. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera

PANDAG, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 6 April) – There is a reason why there shouldn’t be any more fighting in this once blood-filled surroundings in the Ligawasan Marsh area because economic growth will soon come, Environment Secretary Regina Lopez said during her visit in Maguindanao Wednesday.

Lopez met with officials of local government units, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Army and the Police, as well as environment workers and residents at the launching of the Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD) program in Buluan town, where her agency has poured in P21 million for massive bamboo and mangrove rehabilitation around the marsh.

She was happy to witness how the MILF and the military, which she perceived as the worst enemies, are now working closely in various peacebuilding efforts in the province.

Lopez even managed to bring the rebel leaders, Army commanders and local officials to the stage to take oath to help together and rallied them to shout “Hurray!” to signify unity.

The environment secretary is pushing Ligawasan Marsh dwellers to build a model community where people, she hopes, will soon earn from the bamboo industry while the greening program continues to prosper under a sustainable development framework.

Before heading to a planting ceremony in this municipality, she first spent time to lecture on various successful models of sustainable development, like the Sohoton community in Surigao del Norte disturbed by mining activities.

Lopez pointed out that, unlike what the mining firms are doing, there is no need to destroy biodiversity to achieve development and bring livelihood to the people.

“There is tremendous biodiversity in Ligawasan Marsh, like medicinal plants, very rich agriculture and tons of fish,” she said in her opening statement. “We are urging you all to protect the marsh,” she added.

“From the bamboo byproducts, we can start up various livelihoods. We will help you up to the marketing of these products,” Lopez assured Maguindanaons.

Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan of the municipality of Rajah Buayan, where the pilot area and nursery of the bamboo and mangrove propagation program are located, said Lopez’s plans will bring hope for the people who have long sought for windows of opportunity.

“Soon we will make our town the bamboo capital of the province or maybe the whole country. We recognize the increasing area of banana plantations and those plants need a lot of bamboo poles for support [from strong winds brought by heavy fruit load], and that’s where we come in,” Ampatuan said.

He added that the effort will also help mitigate the climate change impact of heavy siltation from Ala River where the strong current during heavy rains carries sand and soil and dumped in many villages.

Butch Malang, who represented the MILF during Lopez’s visit, was delighted about the latest development about the plan of the secretary because Liguasan is homeland for many mujahideens.

“These are manifestations of looming development in the area. I hope this will continue and I’m praying for it to succeed,” he said.

“Just no more fighting. We’re surely gonna help you,” Lopez responded.

Around 60 percent the residents in Maguindanao are living below the poverty line. Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said he hopes to decrease it by 35 percent.

“We are expecting women’s groups to earn from bamboo products. The farmers also will add this to their income and by that there is no more reason to be involved in any form of skirmishes, either by rido or rebellion, because people are busy making a living,” the governor said. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)