By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper
The national road along Brgys. Nanga and Tuguisan, both in Guimbal, Iloilo may not last long before the sea eats it up. In the ‘70s, you needed a slingshot to hit the shore; today, standing on the road that has become an embankment, you only have to spit and you hit the shore right under.
A buffer of sand dotted with coconuts, mangoes, talisay and kamunsil trees used to separate the sea from the road. Now, the government needs to erect concrete barriers and dikes as last defence to the encroaching sea to protect the road that links Iloilo and Antique provinces.
A similar trend occurs off northern Iloilo, in Ajuy town. The sea is getting closer to the line of houses along the road. In the mid-90s, Gov. Arthur Defensor embarked on a mangrove planting program along the shores of Ajuy. His successor, Gov. Niel Tupas added to that, particularly at Brgy. Culasi which was closest to the danger zone. The pagatpat and bakhaw species that Defensor planted are already leg-size while those that Tupas established are still inches thick but already well established. A dry land is also rising which is visible from the road.
According to Jurgenne Honculada Primavera, retired scientist of the South East Asia Fisheries Development Council (SEAFDEC), a consortium of Asian states making research on marine life, the Philippines, Panay Island particularly, hosts majority of the world mangrove species, at least 37 out of the 56 or so known ones.
Primavera, who has garnered international awards for her research on coastal marine conservation, writes that mangroves hold the key to the world’s survival. They are natural re-claimers which protect the dry land from sea surges and erosion, expanding it in the process. They serve as natural aerators and purifiers of water and serve as habitat, breeding and spawning ground of fish, crustaceans and molluscs. She even ventured to argue that mangrove forests cushion off the blows of tsunamis or tidal waves.
Aside from protecting marine life and the dry land, mangroves are also a gold mine. In her talk with us reporters in the late ‘80s at Punta Villa seminar house, Iloilo City, Primavera noted that mangroves provided daily sustenance to marginal fishers and communities along the shores. With mangroves, coastal communities won’t need the DSWD or the so-called pantawid program of P-Noy that gives through the DSWD P500 monthly subsidy per family of the “poorest of the poor”.
A hectare of mangoves by the standards of the ‘80s, provided coastal residents monthly P11,000 worth of catch – shrimps, crabs, shells and fish, among others, aside from fire wood, logs and posts, and non-marine wildlife like birds.
What Defensor and Tupas have done in northern Iloilo, establishing mangrove stands, could be replicated off southern Iloilo.
In my boyhood days, the coastal towns of Miag-ao, Guimbal, Tigbauan and Oton, had lush foreshore greeneries. The mouth of Sibalum River that cuts across Tigbauan town was lined with nipa groves. Aside from enhancing fisheries, Nipa provide additional income to fishers, as roofing and walling materials.
Like its mangrove cousins, nipa also protects the shore from sea surges and serves as marine life habitat. But with it having been wiped out, southern Iloilo traders scrounge to as far as Capiz and Aklan provinces to buy nipa shingles, otherwise, they have to content themselves with lukay, shingles from coconut fronds which are cheaper but inferior.
The embankments at the bukana or mouth of the Sibalom River, visible from the bridge at Brgy. Parara is now lined with mangrove seedlings, indicating that the government of Tigbauan under Mayor Exelsior Torres recognizes the invaluable contribution of mangroves in restoring marine life and protecting people from the rising tide caused by climate change.
Tigbauan now has thriving patches of mangrove stands and nipa palms along Brgys. Baguingin and Namocon.
Its neighbour, Guimbal, is yet to replicate its program of planting them and protecting existing ones. Mayor Christine Garin is a dynamic local chief executive and is keen in making Guimbal and its residents prepared for natural disasters, for which, her municipality was adjudged last year as most outstanding in “disaster risk reduction and management program”. Nobody must have advised her to embark on foreshore reforestation that her neighbour has initiated.