Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is ecstatic that the Iloilo River is among the “finalists” for the award called “RiverPrize” that an Australian-based organization reserves for the “most liveable” rivers.
Iloilo River is a misnomer: it is just an arm of the sea that winds around – and makes an island of – a portion of Iloilo City and part of the neighboring town of Ogtong.
The city and Ogtong have been lulled by the mantra introduced by Senate Pres. Franklin Drilon. After the May 2010 elections Drilon and newly elected mayor, Mabilog, regaled us with the tourism mantra, a multi-million pesos event to clean the Iloilo River.
The mantra says: once the beautification project is done, Iloilo River will become a magnet of foreign tourists, whose dollars will spur the economy to unknown heights and everybody lives happily ever after.
The project cost reaches nearly P1 billion, P300 million of which is to rid the river of “eyesores” which of course is politically incorrect. One refers to communities, the landless and jobless who make ends meet doing odd jobs in the city. Off they went to relocation sites far from their places of livelihood.
The second is the shore forests or mangroves which, Drilon, blames for siltation that makes the stream ugly. The problem calls for dredging which is ongoing – done by a miniature dredger — and the long term solution — regreening mountains which received not a single centavo from Drilon’s lobby. Denudation and erosion exports sludge to lowland streams and finally to river mouths and sea.
The lush mangroves lining the banks of Iloilo River are in danger, many strands of foreshore forests along the Iloilo River and its feeders – Batiano River in Oton and Dungon Creek, have in fact been cleared of mangroves, some as huge as the belly of columnist Nelson Robles.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has allotted some P50 million to “ball” individual mangrove trees (uprooting and transfer them to round pots of plastic for replanting elsewhere) in Ogtong and Iloilo City.
None of that is accomplished. The devotees of the tourism mantra introduced by Drilon simply cut them down – including nipa groves.
The streams have been cleared of the pesky mangroves. Are we now supposed to be happy, hallelujahs, praise the Lord?
The question does not need a simple yes or no. This is not a quiz but a call to think and listen to what mangroves don’t say. This is a call to see what they do to people.
What is beautiful is invisible to adults whose attention is focused only on debit and credit, to paraphrase the French Poet Antoine de Saint Exupery in his book “The Little Prince”: only children see what is essential which adults don’t.
Columnist Nelson Nobles laments that Batiano Creek that winds through his town Ogtong and connects with Iloilo River, is now shorn of mangroves – their sizes reaching the width of a human belly to a full sack of rice. Devotees of the tourism mantra simply have them cut down to the stump.
Its immediate impact is loss of income to marginal families.
Mr. Robles says that at least 10 families that he knows have no more nipa palms to supply them with fronds to fabricate into roofing materials. A family when orders are high, earns P1,000 weekly from making nipa shingles.
Listen to Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, retired scientist of the South East Asia Fisheries Development Project (SEAFDEC), who has written extensively on mangroves and addressed international fora.
By wiping out mangroves in the name of tourism – to which the local governments of Ogtong and Iloilo City even cheer – the people lost. Period.
Mangroves are valued for their “commercial” and “non-commercial” roles.
For its commercial contribution, the mangrove-ecosystem is habitat, spawning and breeding ground of ground of fishes. Mangrove trees are used for constructing houses, fuel, medicines. Some species are ingredients in food processing.
Sustenance fishers in Guimaras, Capiz and Aklan note increasing catch from their expanding mangroves. Who would argue that Guimaras now catches more of the prized “imbao” shells and “managat”, a first class fish? Thanks to mangrove reforestation done there by SEAFDEC and the University of the Philippines in the Visayas since the ‘80s yet.
Dr. Primavera has another term for mangroves – “greenbelt” on the foreshore, connoting its “non-commercial” contribution. Mangroves are the community’s “first line of defense” against food insecurity and calamities, according to Dr. Primavera. They protect the dry land from sea surges during typhoons. They cushion the impact of tsunamis, thus, reduce losses of lives and property.
Mangroves are bio-filters, they purify the water, thus, making the habitat safe to fishes, or “water harvesters” – they purify the water before it seeps down to the aquifer, thus protecting humans.
Iloilo City’s underground water streams are contaminated and it still continues to lose mangroves as water harvesters.
Mangroves slows down “global warming”. Dr. Primavera notes that aside from cooling surroundings, mangroves “sequester carbons ten times more efficient” than mountain forests. Said otherwise, mangroves are ten times faster than mountain forests in reducing the number one greehouse gas (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere.
Dengue fever would not have exacted the heavy toll that it does now in Iloilo City and Province had there been greenbelt areas in each town. Natural predators – spiders, frogs, bats, dragon flies, praying mantis, etc – in greenbelts control pests, dengue-carrying mosquitoes included.
Ogtong failed to raise its rage against the massacre of its mangrove forests by devotees of the mantra that Drilon peddles around. It will skirt that issue again in its “Katagman Festival”, an annual fete it holds for mangroves called in that town as “katagman”.
When yours truly mentions “devotees”, I am referring not to ordinary hands hired to cut down mangroves, but petty bureaucrats of the mold of Iloilo City Mayor Jedd Patrick Mabilog who prance like monkeys whenever Drilon chants the mantra.