MANGROVE FOREST NO MORE. Lianga town Councilor Samuel Dollano points the extent of damage that will affect the 30 hectares of mangrove forest. Photo by Chris V. Panganiban
By CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN, Contributing Editor
LIANGA, Surigao del Sur--Townsfolk of this sleepy seaside town have been opposing the 2.79-kilometer bypass and diversion coastal road project which they fear will destroy at least 30 hectares of mangrove forest but it seems their plea were turned into deaf ears by concerned government agencies.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has yet to act on a petition letter signed by hundreds of residents mostly Catholic parishioners on December 20 last year asking for his intervention to stop the implementation of the project to save the endangered mangrove ecosystem.
“Why pursue a coastal highway project which would entail a relatively huge amount of money and worst, would ultimately destroy our rehabilitated mangrove ecosystem which we regard as a precious tourism showcase of Lianga?” the petitioners asked.
The Department of Public Works and Highways(DPWH) coastal road project costing P173 million awarded to CM Tan Construction based in Butuan City started dumping limestone gravel on the starting line of the road project in December last year after it was included in the 2018 General Appropriations Act fund.
But the Environmental Compliance Certificate issued to the road project provided that “no cutting of mangrove trees shall be undertaken unless extremely necessary and only upon the approval of proper authorities and shall be in accordance of existing Forestry Laws, Rules and Regulations.”
A check at the project site which started at the Research Center of Surigao del Sur State University-Lianga Campus that offers fisheries courses has already crossed and dumped limestone on a fish pond full of Bangus fingerlings and earthworks has already reached about 50 meters burying mature mangrove trees underneath.
Rofel Sarabia, a fourth year fisheries student, said they were surprised when the dump trucks and other earth moving equipment came and immediately started filling limestone in the middle of the fishpond located in between the fishponds and the still unoccupied two-storey research center.
“There would be a big impact in case of the big one or a storm surge will hit this town. The mangroves can prevent the surge as a natural barrier,” he said.
He said the students did not really like that a diversion road will cut across their research area and if they have their way they will oppose the project.
Sarabia and four other students who are scholars of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources(BFAR) were doing research work when INQUIRER accompanied by Sanggunian Bayan member Samuel Dollano visited them on the last week of January.
BFAR has a P1.153 million mangrove rehabilitation project within the school’s research area under the Philippine Aquasilviculture Program of which the identified project area was the first affected by the earth works activities.
According to BFAR , aquasilviculture is a management strategy that combines and harmonizes fish production and mangrove development, a strategy that has become favorable livelihood opportunity to sustainably augment fishers income and, at the same time, reforest the mangrove.
Dollano said SSDU-Lianga Campus serves as the secretariat of Coastal Community Alliance United for Sustainable Ecosystem(CCAUSE) that covers the towns of Tago, Bayabas, Cagwait, Marihatag, San Agustin, Lianga, Barobo, Hinatuan, Lingig and Bislig City.
“They attack the core of the Coastal Resource Management Program in Lianga Bay and at the same time they attack the very core of life support system which is mangrove,”Dollano said.
Told to earth ball
Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer Cliff Abrahan said the contractor is obliged to do earth balling on the affected mangrove trees and transfer them to vacant areas of the mangrove forest as stipulated in the Special Land Use Permit.
He said based on the agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and DPWH the contractor is required to plant at least 100 propagules for every mangrove that will die during the earth work activities.
The multi-million pesos project which was an initiative of Rep. Prospero Pichay of Surigao del Sur’s 1st Congressional District has been opposed by local officials through several resolutions they passed last year.
The local officials supported the clamor of residents who initiated a signed manifesto in the first week of December last year opposing the implementation of the road project.
The manifesto circulated to residents in the affected three neighboring coastal villages said the road project runs counter to the mangrove protection and sanctuary program of the DENR, destroys the breeding place and habitat of sea grass and different kinds of shellfish, destruction of P58 million baywalk project of the Department of Tourism , expensive funding for road right of way for the demolition of fisherfolk homes and the problem of relocation for the displaced residents.
The Municipal Agriculture and Fishery Council (MAFC) also aired their strong objection to the project with resolution they passed as early as February 22 last year citing the negative effects to the marine ecology and to the fisherfolk once the project is implemented.
The council also stood pat that the project contradicts to the original diversion road plan located at the upper portion of the town which was approved by the Municipal Development Council.
Enrique Layno IV, president of the Parish Pastoral Council, agreed with MAFC’s stand saying even during the term of his father who was mayor in the 1990s the plan was to develop the Lianga Upland Diversion Road project since most of the areas that will be affected by the road opening are alienable and disposable lands which will not have direct environmental impact.
“I just wonder why this coastal road project as insisted by Congressman Pichay suddenly came up like a mushroom,”” Layno said.
Dollano said the proposed Upland Diversion Road project is better since there was high social acceptance, and environmentally benign. “The ECC issued to the coastal road project is lopsided since it has high environmental impact.”
He said based on expert studies the upland diversion road would pave the way for the expansion of the town center from the higher elevation considering that the old Poblacion is already below sea level due to the impact of climate change.
Mayor Homer Pedrozo agreed saying the implementation of the project can no longer be prevented since the affected residents gave their nod during a consultation through public hearing was conducted in the village of Payasan in October last year.
“We can no longer stop it but our concern now is that it is up for the national government agencies to check if there are violations,”Pedrozo said.
But he admitted the affected residents’ approval was not based on their written signature but on a video clip produced by National Economic Development Authority which shows they verbally said that the coastal road project is okay.
Prolonging the agony
Macario Angela, an outspoken parish pastoral council member, said the coastal road project may hve emboldened Pichay to push for it since a similar road has traversed from the Poblacion to a private beach resort owned by Mayor Jose Cuyos of Rosario town in Agusan del Sur destroying hundreds of mangroves.
“Why allow another mistake from the previous mistake and held hostage our coastal ecosystem? “he asked.
Dollano also explained Cuyos who operated the Big Times Resort were told by the local government to rehabilitate the affected mangrove areas with massive tree planting activities of which they obliged.