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“Water is life”, assert residents of Brgy. Lupig, in Sta. Rita, Samar. This is how they see this very important resource that they’ve been longing to access easily for quite some time.

Ironically, this community nestled in a place that’s endowed with lush forests and rich natural bounties has long been struggling for enough water supply to support their household and agricultural needs.

“Such need cannot be understated. Hence, finding ways to meet this necessity is a must for every household,” shares Wilbur Abugan, a resident of Brgy. Lupig.

Some face the water scarcity issue by using cemented deep well, water pumps, and rainwater harvesting. During the dry season, residents take time to fetch water from a spring that does not dry-up located in a sitio far from the barangay proper.

However, these sources could not provide enough supply for both their agricultural and household needs. Hope springs eternal. To this maxim, the residents hold on, keeping their faith in the government and its vision of a strongly rooted, secure, and comfortable life for every “Juan”.

True enough, in 2017, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) came into the community laying upon them a program that will make them as the agency’s partner in protecting the environment, their very source of living. They embraced DENR’s program without knowing that this, too, shall answer their long-standing water scarcity problem.

A people’s organization named Lupig Farmers Association (LFA), composed of twenty four (24) members was tapped by the DENR to perform activities for the Enhanced National Greening Program (ENGP). Along with their own daily farming activities, they produced seedlings, developed a tree planting site, and conducted tree planting activities to re-green a 50-hectare forestland under the ENGP.

To ensure growth of their planted species and maintain their NGP plantation, the people’s organization was provided One Million Eight Hundred Thirty Thousand Pesos (1,830,000.00) for the establishment of a Small Water Impounding System (SWIS) in 2017. This is a small scale earth dam structure with a height of 5 to 15 meters constructed to collect and store rainfall and water runoff primarily to supply water to NGP sites.

Serving its purpose, the SWIS provided enough water for LFA’s ENGP planting site, resulting to a 90% survival rating of its established plantation per regional validation conducted in December 2019.

Seeing that the SWIS was providing more than enough for their site, the PO thought of supplying water to their members for household use. Their plan for the establishment of a water distribution system from the SWIS to the households was immediately realized by utilizing a meager fund from their NGP generated livelihood activities.

Together, the members labored to install pipes and fittings from the SWIS located upland to reach their homes. “The need for sufficient and accessible water supply in our homes made the seemingly laborious job of installing water pipes from the mountains to the lowlands easy. We didn’t even need the services of experts, we did it on our own”, a PO member said.

Allan Lapide, President of Lupig Farmers Association said the comfort felt by its members should also be felt by the rest of the community. Knowing the struggle for enough water supply that the community has long been dealing with, the association decided to expand their water services to the rest of the barangay residents.

“Our goal was to provide water supply to most households in our barangays before our fiesta. It’s a simple way of making the people of Barangay Lupig comfortable especially during celebrations they value and enjoy most”, says Mr. Lapide.

Lo and behold, the LFA started supplying water to the rest of the community in December 2019.

“We were elated with the installation of faucets in our kitchen sinks and comfort rooms. We need not callous our hands carrying heavy buckets and containers from a spring far away to our houses for cooking and bathing. Such experience is priceless”, Reynaldo Semingen, a resident of Brgy. Lupig sighs in relief.

Collecting a minimal amount of twenty pesos per cubic meter, LFA now supplies to almost one hundred forty (145) households within their barangay. They proudly share that if consumers will pay their dues religiously, the organization can collect around P15,000.00 per month, a significant addition to their income, indeed. The maintenance of their SWIS is also sourced from this collection.

The PO President however shares, “our goal is to make the lives of our fellows more comfortable. Some of them plead to pay us beyond their due dates, to which we understandably concur”.

He added that beyond comfort for all, supplying water to households is also a means towards encouraging the community to get involved in environment and natural resources conservation.

Part of their campaign is informing the community that lush and flourishing forests would enrich their source of water and sustainably provide enough for the community. “With such campaign, we are now more mindful of our activities that may affect our verdant environment,” Mr. Abugan agrees.

“With such campaign, we are now more mindful of our activities that may affect our verdant environment,” Mr. Abugan agrees.

He also said that the community is now on guard against illegal logging and kaingin and are now more active and involved in environmental activities.

With such experience, Mr. Lapide shared that they shall continue to support the Department’s programs and projects and ensure that their environment is protected.

Meanwhile, DENR Regional Executive Director Tirso P. Parian, Jr. lauded the PO’s compassion for the entire community and for considering the welfare and comfort of everyone. “The effort of the people’s organization to extend the benefits they get from the ENGP to the community and help end the problem on water scarcity while promoting environmental protection and conservation is just commendable”, Director Parian says.

 

Her years of hard labor overseas finally found a break in a serene environment when she went home to develop a tree plantation in a piece of land she owns.

Ms. Lilibeth Solajes, a nature lover, spent almost half of her life working and living a busy life in different places abroad. Despite a seemingly posh life overseas, she shares that growing plants and living in a green environment is what truly makes her happy. For her, planting is a passion that’s innate and an inkling that’s long been in her senses.

“My home garden in Tacloban is filled with greens, and in the many years I’m not home, I make sure that all are in bloom”, Lilibeth says. According to her, she has always dreamed of a vast garden, one that’s peaceful and quiet. 

In 2007, the realization of this dream kicked-off. Home from working abroad, Lilibeth acquired a 24- hectare land in Sta. Rita, Samar, just at the outskirts of the bustling City of Tacloban. From her mini garden at home, she desired to fill this land with fruit trees, hardwood, vegetables, and all sorts of plants that she hopes would make Mother Nature grin with joy.

Lilibeth says her communion with the outside world made her passion for the environment grow even stronger. Seeing environmental practices of different races and how other countries have managed to protect the environment inspired her to take bigger steps towards the realization of her vision and passion for nature.

Albeit, like most beginners Lilibeth struggled at first. “I bought this piece of land filled with naturally grown trees. Left a while due to my job outside the country, the community around this area started cutting down the trees, maybe thinking that this area will be cleared for further development anyway”, she shares.

“I was frustrated! I later realized that my goal needs to go beyond planting. I felt the need to educate the community about protecting nature and sustaining its health for the future”, she adds.

Instead of condemning them for their acts, Lilibeth hired individuals in the community, including those who were involved in the illegal cutting of trees to work on her 24-hectare land. They became partners in developing the area into a farm and a man-made forest filled with hardwood and fruit trees.

Admittedly though, Lilibeth says transforming the community and making them realize the value of environmental sustainability was difficult. 

“The community is engulfed in old beliefs, old ways of doing things. Inculcating into their minds the value of today’s effort for the future couldn’t be done in a snap. They were rolling up their sleeves for what would satisfy their needs today, including cutting down trees so they could sell it, earn income, and serve food on their table”, she narrates.

She adds that some didn’t understand why she has such passion for farming and tree planting. Such huge place could be turned into an outstanding business hub instead, giving her immediate profit. Why wait for years to see the fruit of her labor? She was often asked.

Her endeavor questioned, Lilibeth admits that she embarked into this activity unarmed but optimistic. “My passion for this venture has driven me to pursue linkage with government agencies, NGOs, and the community. My hands grow plants, I know how to plant. But I have no technical knowledge on farming, more so, growing trees. I have passion, lots of glowing passion,” she explains

Lilibeth proudly shares that this passion, coupled with enthusiasm, is her greatest driving force. Her experience on environmental practices overseas tandems with her interests. This eagerness led her to finding a formidable ally with government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“The DENR gave me seedlings of yakal and other tree species for free. Planting these seedlings gives me so much joy and satisfaction. Growing these seedlings became a source of livelihood for the community”, Lilibeth says.

“I don’t have plans of harvesting these trees in the future, let it serve its purpose of carbon sequestration”, she quips.

“I realized that when you are keen on your intentions, you will truly achieve your goals. You don’t have to be an expert. Support is just around the corner, just take a step and go for it”, Lilibeth says.

“The most rewarding part of my planting experience is seeing the community transform from once violators of environmental laws into my partners in creating a sound environment”, Lilibeth adds.

She proudly shares that their dependence on the land for their daily survival is now coupled with responsibility and accountability.

“I think their hard work not only springs from the monetary remuneration they get from doing their job, they now understand the value of sustainability, protecting the environment and natural resources for tomorrow. The transformation of the community, a serene environment to rest, my green land giving back to nature what it deserves – this is my purpose, and I have taken a step to achieve it”, Lilibeth shared.

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the reality that nature deserves our respect. It sure knows how to punch back, with countries and its citizens across the world reeling from its effect. And, it challenges us to make sure that we do not forget the lessons it brings to us. History has not been kind to us in our inability to shun from similar mistakes. Of paramount importance then is to take to heart and enrich those painful lessons so that nature and people can co-exist with mutual respect, harmony and benevolent interdependence.

Unfolding of unprecedented events

The Novel Corona Virus, now commonly called as the COVID-19, started to show its dreaded face in Wuhan, China towards the end of 2019 spreading rapidly to many parts of the world including industrialized countries like United States, Spain, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom and France. Globally, more than 200 countries have reported cases of COVID-19 and were overwhelmed with how fast the virus spread infecting thousands and with a great number of fatalities.

Eventually, the virus found its way into our country and spread rapidly, particularly in Metro Manila and many parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. With no ready vaccine and discovering one still uncertain, the government had no other feasible recourse but to impose calibrated quarantines depending on the gravity of virus contagion of the locality.

From data provided by the World Health Organization, there are already 10, 185,374 confirmed cases with 503,862 fatalities worldwide as of June 30, 2020. In the Philippines, the infected cases are already 37,514 with 1,266 dead. Authorities are yet to officially declare the flattening of the curve of COVID-19 cases. The number of cities and localities worldwide that imposed community lockdowns is the first of its kind in the recorded history of mankind. It is unprecedented and unimaginable, so to speak. People from all walks of life were stopped on their tracks. Practically, everyone was forced to stay in their homes and with limited mobility. It affected our very own way of life like never before. No more parties, social gatherings, and travelling around. The most common phrase worldwide now is SOCIAL DISTANCING. An uncomfortable compromise on our part for we are social beings by nature.

Respite to Mother Nature

Forced to stay at home and stay apart resulted to the reduction of carbon footprint. This is an expected after effect considering there are less vehicles traversing the roads, temporary stoppage of factories and malls that consume large quantities of fuel and electricity, and many other human activities that adversely impact the environment were put to a halt. All over the world, localities have started to report cleaner air, clearer water and reduced quantity of solid waste recorded during the quarantine period. Different species of wildlife have been seen roaming on places where humans used to frequent before their hasty retreat to their homes. It would appear that the COVID-19 induced lockdown has revealed, if not conclusively confirmed, that human activities are the principal culprits of all forms of pollution and the diminished capacity of nature to sustain a healthy and sustainable environment.

“It is observed that with less human intervention, nature is given the needed window to resuscitate itself. Left alone, nature regenerates on its own,” says Tirso P. Parian, Jr., Regional Executive Director of DENR in Eastern Visayas.

The Environmental Management Bureau in the region is in the process of collating data from its ambient air and water monitoring stations to study how the community quarantines in different parts of the region has made an impact to the environment. However, there is reason to be optimistic that air and water pollution may have registered a decrease in the region. In Metro Manila, for example, the air pollution monitoring stations in Las Piñas, Marikina, Muntinlupa and Parañaque have readings indicating reduced air pollution. Based on these initial indicators, DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu was able to see the silver lining with the present pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic saw the Earth healing with cleaner air and water. Let us make these and our changed behavior the new normal when this crisis is over,” says Secretary Cimatu.

Nature has found a way to bounce back and heal itself. Humanity’s greatest contribution to Earth’s healing is simply by doing nothing. A direct affront to us, for humanity has always been proud of showcasing its ability to control nature and the seemingly wanting of remorse in the exploitation of our environment and natural resources for the perks of a modern and civilized society. In a way, nature is just showing us a glimpse that society can continue to exist less the wants of modernity.We can have less of what nature is capable of providing society, with us still flourishing and excelling as human beings.

It is just unfortunate that while most people are locked in their respective homes and communities, there are still many that capitalize on the pandemic with their sinister plot to ravage our natural resources. Records from the DENR Enforcement Division in Eastern Visayas would show that from March to May of 2020 alone, more than Php5.5 million worth of illegally cut lumber were seized. This goes to show that our duty towards nature knows no pandemic. We always must be on the lookout for violators of environmental laws.

The challenge now is how humanity will respond. Are we capable of rising up to the occasion and become our better selves? If and when a vaccine is found, are we going to revert back to the “business as usual” mentality?

If we remain shackled to our egocentric attitude, we will miserably fail this deadly lesson. The next time nature fights back, the price may be too high and its effect already irreversible. Unless we realize that whatever gain can be alluded to nature because of the pandemic is but temporary - a short sigh of relief - we shall end up regretting this golden chance. Once we act like masters and less as nature’s stewards again, then we are back to where we left off prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Political will and personal commitment to sustain nature’s gain

While it is true that high-impact and far-reaching resolutions should come from the policy and decision-makers, it should not be an excuse for ordinary citizens to just wait on the sidelines and allow events prejudicial to our right to live in a balanced and healthful ecology. Everyone must jointly and individually find ways to sustain nature’s road to full recovery and implement the same. One such way is reduction of pollution that is strategically feasible and sustainable.

The new normal must include the thrust towards a greener economy – from automobiles, factories and even sustainable and greener source of energy.

In an article online, Åsa Persson, research director at the Stockholm Environment Institute was quoted as asking the right questions. She asked, “Will governments seek to shore up the economy by bolstering old, polluting industries, or embrace calls for a “green stimulus” and use recovery funds to create jobs in sectors such as clean power and energy efficiency? On that same subject, Lukas Ross, a senior policy analyst of Friends of the Earth said that, “allocating those vast sums in a way that moves the world toward a low-carbon future - and also addresses the racial and economic inequalities the pandemic has laid bare—would yield far more than a few months of reduced emissions.”

Sensible ideas that deserve our serious consideration.

Individually and collectively, private citizens can do their part. Basic is the mantra that if you can’t reuse it, refuse it – a simplified phrase to the usual 3 R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle. While we try to limit our consumption to essentials only, whatever waste we generate must be properly segregated and disposed of to prevent polluting our waters and air. A simple way of reducing our carbon emission is not to burn our garbage, reduce our use of automobiles, or conversion to e-buses instead of the fuel-dependent vehicles. Already, people are now embracing the use of bikes as an alternative mode of transportation. And with the government putting up the needed infrastructure to encourage more bikers, this a positive prospect to lessen our carbon footprint. Another thing that all can do even in the privacy of their homes or vacant lots is tree growing. Not only will it provide the needed shade, trees are also efficient in sequestering carbon in the atmosphere. Yet another important aspect is a shift in our attitude towards all forms of wildlife. Their continued existence in the wild is an important factor for a healthy biodiversity. Any disruption causes an imbalance that, more often than not, adversely affects human health. Illegal wildlife trafficking and unregulated consumption has to stop.

The call is really for transformation of every individual’s viewpoint and standpoint. The pandemic has shown us positive changes. In the words of Sec. Cimatu, “we hope these positive changes brought about by COVID-19 could carry over beyond the current pandemic.”

Turning defeat into victory

Undeniably, the COVID-19 pandemic has made us face our mortality as a human race. We were caught off guard and by the time we reacted, it was too late. But that is now water under the bridge and we are still trying to contain it though there are now indicators that we are effectively managing the spread of the virus. But as they say, it ain’t over until it’s over. We may be down but we are definitely not out. As Filipinos, we have shown our capability to adapt and to overcome the many obstacles that come our way. We are resilient that even in the face of death, we still know how to smile. These are qualities that we will be needing once again as we embark into this new normal. A new episode with greater respect and appreciation of nature.

The pandemic has given us TIME FOR NATURE, as the theme for this year’s celebration of World Environment Day (June 5) suggests. The DENR challenges the public to transform that time to reflect into action as embodied in this year’s theme of Philippine Environment Month (June) which is, “PROTECT NATURE, SUSTAIN OUR FUTURE.” Rightly so.

Mr. Ross accurately capsulizes our urgent task to afford nature the protection it deserves. “We’re not going to get another shot at this. We cannot afford to rebuild into the old status quo.”

You never miss the water until the well runs dry” fittingly describe the misgivings of many communities with regard to the importance of wetlands.

For decades, there has been a global clamor for the public to take cognizance of the value and benefits that wetlands provide. In 1971, governments the world over adopted the Convention on Wetlands (also known as the Ramsar Convention) as the only global treaty which focuses on the protection of wetlands. The Government of the Philippines enforced the Ramsar Convention on November 8, 1994 with seven (7) sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance and a surface area comprising 244,017 hectares. However, for the most part this was received half-heartedly, and in some cases, even on deaf ears. It was only during the historic temporary closure and rehabilitation of the world-class tourist destination - Boracay Island - that the conservation and wise use of wetlands became a hot topic. It hugged the headlines of the tri-media and was a favorite topic on the internet and the various social media platforms. This paved the way for creating public awareness on the importance of wetlands.

Following the marching orders of no less than President Rodrigo R. Duterte to clean up what he referred to as a “cesspool”, DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu took charge and sadly assailed how negligence resulted to the wetlands of Boracay losing its purpose. He emphasized that as kidneys of the earth, wetlands must be restored to act as catchment during rainy days and prevent flooding. Aside from absorbing excess rainfall, wetlands with their mangrove forest also serve as breeding grounds of marine species and are home to both endemic and migratory wildlife. True to his words, Secretary Cimatu pushed for the unprecedented action of reclaiming and rehabilitating the wetlands of Boracay Island to restore them to their original state. The same laudable effort has since been replicated across the archipelago with a sense of urgency.

Knowing the wetlands

According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), “a wetland is a place where the land is covered by water, either salt, fresh or somewhere in between. Marshes and ponds, the edge of a lake or ocean, the delta at the mouth of a river, low-lying areas that frequently flood—all of these are wetlands.” Eastern Visayas is host to a number of areas considered as wetlands. Among these, the DENR is monitoring seven (7) wetlands because of the presence of migratory birds considered as one of the gauges to determine a healthy wetland. These sites are: Ormoc Bay Wetlands in Ormoc City; Carigara Bay Wetland located in the municipalities of Carigara and Barugo, Leyte; Guiuan Intertidal Flats in Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Maqueda Bay Wetlands along the municipalities of Jiabong and Paranas, Samar; Lake Bito in MacArthur, Leyte; St. Bernard-Hinunangan of Southern Leyte; and Tres Marias Islands located in Palompon, Leyte. These wetlands have been verified to offer breeding grounds for fishes, sanctuary for migratory birds dubbed as “visitors without passports” and a dependable protection from flooding.

What then is the significance of wetlands?

Again from the WWF, “wetlands...are some of the most productive habitats on the planet. They often support high concentrations of animals - including mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates—and serve as nurseries for many of these species. Wetlands also support the cultivation of rice, a staple in the diet of half the world’s population. And they provide a range of ecosystem services that benefit humanity, including water filtration, storm protection, flood control and recreation. Without wetlands, cities have to spend more money to treat water for their citizens, floods are more devastating to nearby communities, storm surges from hurricanes can penetrate farther inland, animals are displaced or die out, and food supplies are disrupted, along with livelihoods.”(https:// www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/wetlands) We should therefore allow wetlands to co-exist with us and not treat them as a hindrance to our definition of progress and development. Wetlands are our natural dependable ally as they offer a myriad benefits free of charge. Properly managed, it can generate alternative livelihood through recreation tourism, assist in mitigating sea level rise, give rise to fertile agricultural lands, control destructive flooding and serve as buffer from storm surges and strong winds.

Presently, we are witnessing positive signs of people becoming more responsible to the environment. They are now enlightened of the importance of wetlands, drawing lessons from events such as storm surges and floods. Teresita Dumdum, a septuagenarian from the coastal town of Paranas, Samar has observed that more than 200 meters of once dry land along the coastline of Brgy. Poblacion in that town is now underwater due to increasing level of seawater. She shared, “this unfortunate event was happening just as the mangrove forest in the area was getting sparse and fish catch was becoming scarce.” This is a testament of the cause and effect relationship between healthy mangrove ecosystems with stable soil to that of bountiful marine resources. The absence of one results to wanting of another.

Wetlands as a thing of the past?

There was a time that wetlands as they are, were left undisturbed by any form of human activities. As a result, they thrived and were a healthy habitat of varied forms of wildlife. Wetlands then were a fully functional natural deterrent against flooding and a continuous source of water to the communities.

Through the years, wetlands have undergone a total make-over. Worst, in some places they cease to be as such and have been converted to other uses. Wittingly or otherwise, the less than favorable trend of wetlands condition can be attributed to many factors. It can be the wanting of needed information to have proper appreciation of its existence which can branch out to not well planned-out development of wetland areas. Another culprit may be attributed to irresponsible utilization of its resources and the population boom that results to illegal encroachment.

One such abuse is that of rampant cutting of mangrove as a rich source of quality fuel wood for home and commercial uses which is common among communities. Mangrove trees are also being used as raw material in the building of houses and fences.

Melchor Garado, a farmer from Brgy. Panagmitan, Guiuan, Eastern Samar, narrated how people from the poblacion and other neighboring towns would even use chainsaw to cut mangrove trees in great numbers to be used as firewood for their bakeshops. “It is a good thing that many bakeshops are now into electric ovens. Unfortunately, there are still reported incidents of cutting under cover of darkness and using bancas,” says Mr. Garado.

Vicente Abadiano, a 74 year old fisherman and a 20-year resident of Poblacion, Paranas, Samar has witnessed a noticeable decline of fish catch and the numbers of migratory birds visiting the area became lesser and lesser through the years. “It is clear to me now that the denudation of mangrove forest due to rampant cutting and illegal poaching is the cause for the dwindling of the once abundant presence of migratory birds,” says the elderly Abadiano.

A village chief in Motiong, Samar also attributed the cutting of mangroves and rural development into mangrove forest as culprit for dwindling coastal and marine resources as well as the proliferation of solid waste, especially those made of plastics. As part of several migratory sites that DENR is monitoring, there are also barangays in Guiuan, Eastern Samar with intertidal flats that are being monitored for the presence of migratory birds. Built up communities have replaced what used to be thriving mangrove trees in these wetlands. When Typhoon Ursula struck in December of 2019, the coastal barangay of Baras in that town experienced flooding caused by storm surge reaching up to 1.6 meters. Houses near the shore were washed away and docked fishing boats were destroyed. It was higher than what they experienced during super typhoon Yolanda. Clearly, the reduced number of mangrove trees has significantly increased the risk to storm surges and flooding in the area. “When mangroves were still in abundance, we would hide our boats there during inclement weather which was an effective shelter. That is no longer the case lately,” lamented Roberto Rodriguez, barangay captain of Brgy. Campoyong, an adjacent barangay of Baras, Guiuan, E. Samar.

Dwindling resources

“There was a time that the area was still thickly forested with mangrove trees and my father who was a fisherman, can easily catch 12 kilos of fish on ordinary days. Now, we consider it a lucky day if we are able to catch 3 kilos,” says Annalyn Caadan, a resident of Brgy. Baras.

Residents of the same barangay also noticed that fewer migratory birds are seen on the wetlands. They likewise testify that there are even species of birds which they haven’t seen anymore.

Melchor Garado, a farmer of Brgy. Baras was quick in pointing out the cause for the declined number of migratory birds and the dwindling fish catch. He said, “mangrove denudation has deprived fishes of their natural breeding grounds and it in effect denied the migratory birds the food they need as well as their roosting area.”

Hope remains for the wetlands

It is a bitter pill to swallow that we have to first suffer the consequences of the abuse many of us have committed on our wetlands and the environment as a whole. But as has been repeatedly pointed out, it is from humbly learning and accepting our shortcomings that we are able to start a new beginning armed with all the lessons of the past.

People and communities are now better equipped with the needed information for them to appreciate the role of wetlands to our very own existence - even survival. Even government projects geared towards urban and rural development already take into account the need to preserve and protect the wetlands. Progress is not simply equated to the length of roads concreted or the buildings constructed. The rule of thumb is that of holistic development – human progress and development that does not sacrifice the environment. In this case, the wetlands, knowing too well that it is not simply a saturated land. It is more than that.

Based on the monitoring of the World Wetlands Foundation (WWF), there has already been positive development since the Convention on Wetlands was signed in Ramsar, Iran as an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

 Already, many governments, institutions and organizations have initiated efforts for wetlands conservation and protection. It is said that close to 193,000 hectares of wetlands have been protected since the treaty was adopted in 1975.

In Eastern Visayas, mangrove forest rehabilitation has been taking center stage with many sectors of society who are now into mangrove growing. Ecotourism ventures within wetlands have been developed or are slated for development. A concrete example is the Naungan Mangrove Ecopark in Ormoc City which has been a source of additional income by the members of the Naungan San Juan Mangrove Planters Association (NSJMPA).

 In St. Bernard, Southern Leyte, there is a proposed bird sanctuary along the wetlands that encompasses barangays San Isidro, Panian and Himbangan because of the monitored presence of migratory birds which the residents describe to be in their “thousands”. Having organized themselves into a mangrove planters association, they are now starting to witness the fruits of their labor with a significant increase of the mangrove forest in their area.

Josefa Tabala, an elderly who has resided in Brgy. San Isidro since the 1970’s is a living witness to the increasing trend of migratory birds in the area after they have been aggressive with mangrove growing along the coastal area. “Ever since we have restored the mangrove forest, it greatly reduced the flooding in our barangay and has sheltered us numerous times from strong waves. We also noticed the increasing volume of fishermen’s catch from the sea like that of shrimps, shells and different types of fishes,” shared Ms. Tabala.

Likewise, many local government units are increasingly cooperating with national government agencies like DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the implementation and enforcement of environmental laws particularly on mangrove, coastal and marine resources. This is made even more effective with the support and compliance by the residents themselves. They now know better than to disregard the wetlands.

This recent development, both initiatives from the public and private sectors, is pointing us to the right direction - a revitalized and a hopeful future of wetlands. While optimistic of what lies ahead, we must not put down our guard and be swayed to complacency.

Hopeful, yes. But we must not forget that there is still much to done.

The heaps of trash that’s long been resting in the corners of her home awakened her creativity - the ingenuity of a woman, and the quick-witted nature of a mom.

Tired of seeing all the trash, Ms. Dianne Asanza, a mother and a home maker thought of reviving the value of unused materials perceived by her household as trash.

“I got worried seeing all the plastics. Where shall these materials go? How will these be disposed by the garbage collectors?” Ms. Dianne anxiously asked herself. “I want to make sure that my trash does not contribute to the garbage that destructs the environment. The only way I can do this, is turn it into something useful instead of just entrusting it to the collectors,” she adds.

3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recyle. This principle has been promoted to generations for years, and the idea has been embraced by many into their lifestyles. For instance, reducing gas consumption by walking rather than getting a ride in going to nearby destinations, using old papers as scratch or reusing to-be-discarded items for a purpose, and turning used materials into new materials such as shredding old papers to make new paper materials.

Ms. Dianne is a fan of the 3Rs, but she is not limiting her creativity to the usual. Earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, her passion for art is innate, and beyond this, her personal advocacy towards environmental protection and conservation through proper solid waste management.

She shares, “I started organizing my personal things and ended up scrutinizing the scrap pile because I wanted stuffs which shall become my organizers. I started working on a plastic pipe which seems so useless. I turned it into my hair dryer and brush stand with a little touch of art.” She saw it was nice and useful, and started creating other stuff from scratch.

“At first, it was garbage - cans, bottles, used ribbons, cloth, paper, boxes - anything that we have used and wished to throw away. I felt there was a conscious need to show concern for the environment, so I thought of saving these items instead of throwing them,” she adds.

With her imaginative mind and creative hands, she enthusiastically ventured into upcycling, an activity which became a byword in the family. They got so involved in this type of recycling where waste is converted into new products and materials that are better than the original or have better environmental value.

 The interest of turning wastes into better and useful crafts cascaded into each and every member of the family. Realizing that waste reduction is indeed possible, each one shared his own way of being involved in upcycling.

Ms. Dianne shares, “my mom got a boring, 70’s looking, unserviceable lamp shade from a garage sale, and gave it to me. It was unusable, so I decided to strip off the thick cloth and made a few alterations. I punched out some areas using a stencil and covered it with blue organza and placed some tassels and some glitter to make it very different from its original look. I then salvaged a lamp base which was on its way to disposal and did a little work on it as well. Now it’s a star among my decors, fascinating my guests.”

Her passion for upcycling became ardent, that even small things such as bra wires are turned into fashionable bracelets.

“My garbage is much less than the usual. My mind is constantly working and looking for ways to transform garbage into useful bits and pieces and it just works like magic,” Ms. Dianne said as she shares her advocacy to minimize waste.

She said her artworks are given as gifts or tokens for friends during special events citing that these are even more special, because she puts herself into every piece she creates including that special bonding moment with her family while creating her crafts. Since she started in 2015, she has created loads of fancy stuffs from trash. With all her creations, she intends to put up a store where her artworks may be sold. “Less garbage, productive free time, more profit,” Dianne stressed.

This activity tickled the interest of her friends, turning Ms. Dianne into an effective influencer. She inspires others to do the same thing with their garbage by posting her upcycling activities in social media.

“This is my own little way of influencing others to reduce the litters that adversely affect our environment. Unused things need not add up to the burden of Mother Earth. It is important that we create an opportunity to value products that would just end up in the dumpsites.  Let’s re-use, reduce, recycle, and upcycle,” Ms. Dianne stressed.