There used to be 18 endemic fish species in Lake Lanao. Slowly, over decades, they became extinct, and there is perhaps only one remaining. The lake is now populated with alien invasive species. There are signs the lake is beginning to die, which is difficult to imagine, considering that Lake Lanao is one of only 17 ancient lakes in the world, meaning, they have been lakes for over a million years. But many fishermen would rather drive tricycles than fish. For them, fishing is now mainly for putting food on the table.
Lake Lanao, second only to Laguna Lake in size, is in Lanao del Sur, one of the poorest provinces (7 of 10 residents poor) in the most neglected region of the Philippines, Bangsamoro or Muslim Mindanao. In 2016, a comprehensive sociocultural, biological, chemical, and physical study of the lake was funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines. The Lake Lanao study was one of NRCP’s first research projects under its new mode of multidisciplinary, policy-oriented, National Integrated Basic Research Agenda. The study was proposed and awarded to local experts, prominent faculty from the Mindanao State University and the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology—Drs. Fema M. Abamo, Beverly B. Amparado, Carmelita G. Hansel, Sherwin S. Nacua, Monera Salic-Hairulla, and Sukarno D. Tanggol, chancellor of MSU-IIT who led the research team. The Marawi siege in May to October 2017 interrupted the study, necessitating the team’s evacuation and causing loss of vital specimen and equipment. But the researchers managed to finish their work and share their findings and recommendations in a public forum in October 2018.
The findings show that while Lake Lanao’s water is still considered “healthy” chemically and physically, the loss of endemic species and other indicators like lower water level spell deterioration, due to pollution coming from 19 municipalities surrounding the lake. Lake management has no “ownership,” with solid waste dumped into the lake, no LGU water and sewage treatment facilities, upstream watersheds deforested, soil erosion flowing through tributary rivers into the lake, and industrial activities such as those of the National Power Corp. dams and hydroelectric power plant possibly altering lake attributes.
The local, regional, and national governments need to act fast, optionally as a Lake Lanao Development Authority, to control and reverse pollution in the lake, on which the survival and well-being of the Meranaw people depend. Unfortunately, the lake is excluded from the jurisdiction of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The researchers lamented that their study is not getting the attention of local, regional, and national policymakers because priority is given to post-siege Marawi. The city remains in ruins, and 66,000 are still displaced and living in temporary settlements. Resources are being marshalled for the Marawi City rehabilitation. One Task Force Bangon Marawi proposal that was floated was to use debris for land reclamation.
But the victims of the Marawi siege themselves are not too happy with the pace and direction of the rehabilitation. They themselves complain that COVID-19 has further slowed the already slow rehabilitation of the city, now ongoing for more than three years with the clearing of the rubble and rebuilding of roads and public facilities; no construction of private residential and business buildings is even half-finished. The open-ended Marawi rehabilitation has been overtaken by the open-ended task of COVID-19 prevention and containment.
In his Sona last month, President Duterte, despite his focus on the ABS-CBN issue, managed to mention 21 priority bills, but none on the Marawi rehabilitation. There are bills in Congress providing for compensation for affected families and businesses that may no longer progress into law. So, it seems the Philippines nowadays is layered with competing, open-ended miseries. The problem is, Mr. Duterte’s term is not open-ended, and chances are, the COVID-19 and the Marawi rehabilitation problems will outlast his presidency.
The Philippines under COVID-19 is like Noah’s Ark without a destination. The game plan is to wait out the pandemic the way you wait out a flood, until the Chinese or Russian vaccine, whichever comes first, saves us. But after 150 days, this flood of miseries shows no signs of abating. In fact, it is still rising. And the wherewithal for collective survival is getting leaner and leaner. The IATF for COVID-19, headed by retired generals, is apparently not doing any better than the inter-agency Task Force Bangon Marawi, headed by another retired general.
So much for talk of solving critical national problems in three to six months. In leaving the presidency in 2022, Mr. Duterte, the savior-mayor from Davao, will be leaving the nation worse off than he found it.
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