Secretary Regina Paz “Gina” L. Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) visited the municipality of Buluan in Maguindanao on April 5, 2017 for the launching of the Sustainable Integrated Area Development (SIAD) initiatives or known as Peace Site for the Liguasan (Ligawasan) Marsh area. Also with the Party of Sec. Lopez were Undesecretary Deosita Andot of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP); DENR Undersecretary Sylvia Ordoñez; Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) and Director Henry A. Adornado of the DENR-Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB).

Maguindanao Provincial Governor Esmael G. Mangudadatu led the welcoming party together with the Board Members, Heads of Offices and employees of the Provincial Government, 14 municipal Local Chief Executives along with their municipal council members, some DENR officials and employees from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)headed by its Regional Secretary, Kahal Q. Kedtag and Region XII delegation headed by PENRO Officers Rosalinda B. Cortez (Sultan Kudarat) and Forester Mamerto Cardenas (Cotabato Province) . The MILF group was headed by Mr. Butch Malang, Chair of the MILF-Coordinating Council on the Cessation of Hostilities.

In his welcome remarks, Hon. Gov. Mangudadatu lauded the strong leadership of Secretary Lopez including her initiatives to protect the environment from further destruction. “Our Idol, we will support your initiatives all the way”, the Governor said. He further encouraged all the mayors and other officials present to support the programs of the DENR and rally behind Secretary Lopez’s environmental programs and projects.

Meanwhile, in her keynote address, Secretary Lopez emphasized that the SIAD in the Liguasan Marsh area is expected to propel genuine economic growth. “Let us bear in mind that the very foundation of economic growth is love. Stop fighting each other, let us help each other to make Liguasan Marsh a model of the entire country”, she said.

Let us work together - the MILF, the government, the military, and the community to improve the quality of life of the people by establishing integrated area development-based models that would showcase best practices while sustaining the integrity of the ecosystem”, Secretary Lopez further emphasized.

Secretary Lopez also showed some initiatives that worked, such as the La Mesa Eco Park in Metro Manila, the Ugong Rock in Palawan, Mangrove Forest in Bohol and the Ecotourism Areas in Pangasinan. “The community in these areas are now benefitting the fruits of a green economy without destroying the environment and their respective organizations do now have millions in their bank accounts”, she stressed.

The Secretary ended her speech by leading the Pledge of Support for the Environment. With her very energetic and animated personality as described by USec Andot of OPAPP, Secretary Lopez was able to bring representatives of the MILF and MNLF and the Military in front of the stage, shook hands in front of almost 500 audience and encouraged them to stop fighting, love each other and work for the common good of the people in the area.

Following the speech of Secretary Lopez was the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the DENR and the Municipality of Rajah Buayan represented by its Mayor, Hon. Zamzamin Ampatuan. As embodied in the agreement, Rajah Buayan will get a 21-million peso financial support for its quest to make the municipality as the 1st bamboo town of the country. The amount shall be used in the establishment of a 1,000 hectare-bamboo plantation in the next three years. Rajah Buayan, whose poverty level is at 35% is envisioned to be a bamboo capital of the Philippines. “The challenge is heavy, but there is no room for failure here. We will plant more bamboos and we will take care of it. We will succeed, Inshallah” (God Willing), Mayor Ampatuan said. Secretary Lopez responded that the government will give its full support to the Mayor’s initiatives, starting from financial, technical, products development up to marketing. She likewise made an assurance that the other LGUs within the Liguasan Marsh area will also expect support, so “show up”, she challenged the Mayors present.

The whole day event ended with a ceremonial tree and bamboo planting at the municipality of Pandag, some 7.9 kilometers away from the venue in Buluan town. Species planted include bamboo in the riverbank and Talisay (Terminalia catappa L.) and Lipao, an indigenous species in Liguasan Marsh.

Liguasan Marsh is described as an extensive swamp region in the Mindanao River basin with an area of 280,000 hectares covering the provinces of Maguindanao (13 municipalities); Cotabato (five municipalities) and Sultan Kudarat ( two municipalities and one city). An inventory in 2012 by Amoroso, et.al. recorded 201 species belonging to 159 genera in 68 plant families. And out of the 201 species assessed, 12 species are endemic and two species are vulnerable. The assessment likewise listed 50 flora from the four municipalities in the province of Cotabato. These data were also highlighted in the presentation made by Dr. Bonie Pindaliday and Mr. Kim Bagundang during the event. Vilma F. Nitura, MDARRC