‘Luntiang Katipunero’: Guardians of Quezon mangroves
A year after the planting of more than two million mangrove propagules in a single day in different coastal villages of Quezon, the project is headed to become an inspiring feat for environmental protection.
And credit for ensuring their growth goes to hundreds of volunteers called “Luntiang Katipunero” (LK).
“They are composed of 1,960 volunteers, mostly fishermen and farmers,” said Manny Calayag, Quezon-Environment and Natural Resources Office (Quezon-Enro) community coordinator, during the recent preview of a video documentary project on the massive mangrove planting in the province held June 30 last year.
They are tasked with ensuring the growth of newly planted mangroves along their coastline,” said Calayag who gave credit to Gov. David Suarez for baptizing the mangrove guardians as luntiang katipunero.
Suarez said the name connotes noble men in environment protection who are modern-day heroes ready to defend their community against the challenge of climate change and to serve as model on how to preserve and protect the natural state of their surroundings.
In the video documentary, the barangay (village) captain of Sta. Teresa in Lopez, Quezon, narrated how their former rich mangrove area was destroyed during a strong typhoon in 1995 when a ship owned by a flour mill in the area spilled bunker fuel that contaminated a wide part of the Lopez Bay fronting Pacific Ocean.
“The accident destroyed an estimated 200,000 fully grown mangroves. The whole community was devastated, as if somebody dear to us had died,” Mark Manza, said in the documentary.
Manza said the villagers tried to resurrect the lost mangrove but failed to bring it back to its former state. This was until last year when the provincial government launched the mass planting of more than two million mangrove propagules in one day in 163 other villages dotting the province’s 1,066-kilometer coastline in a project dubbed “Quezon’s 2 in 1.”
Thirty four of Quezon’s 42 towns are coastal municipalities—17 along Lamon Bay in the Pacific Ocean; 12 in Tayabas Bay facing the China Sea; and 5 in Ragay Gulf.
“When my family and I participated in the mangrove planting last year, we knew we were working on the return of the lost mangrove area,” said Samson Lara, one of the LKs and president of a fishermen association in Sta. Teresa.
He remembered how the fishers used to feast on the bounty of their catch when the former mangrove area was not yet destroyed.
“We always had good catch. We don’t have to sail further because the vicinity of the former mangrove area was teeming with all kinds of fish, shrimps, crabs, shells and other marine products,” he said.
Mangrove forest, also known as the “rainforest of the sea,” is an important part of the marine ecosystem as the roots of the trees provide shelter for marine life while their fallen leaves become feed for fish and other marine animals.
Mangrove areas are also key natural flood-prevention structures that safeguard the coastal villages from wave surges and strong winds during typhoons.
Lara disclosed that aside from the typhoon and oil spill, irresponsible charcoal makers also contributed to the death of their mangrove place.
He said some of his fellow villagers and other mangrove poachers from other villages usually sneak in the middle of the night to cut the wood species and turn them into charcoal, a favorite among “lechon” makers in the metropolis.
“But these charcoal makers who cut mangroves in the past have learned their lessons. To correct their mistakes, some of them participated in the planting project last year,” Lara said.
To protect the mangroves, the provincial government passed an ordinance last year that banned wood-charcoal making in Quezon.
Cutting mangrove trees is also banned by Presidential Decree No. 705 or the Forestry Code of the Philippines and Republic Act No. 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code.
Manza said they selected the LKs from among the many volunteers in the village.
“The luntiang katipunero are avid protectors of the mangroves. After the planting last year, they have been regularly visiting the sites, some of them daily, inspecting the mangroves’ conditions,” he said.
Manza said the 10 LKs in their village are in charge of constant monitoring of more than 60,000 newly planted mangroves.
Edilberto Yaba, one of the LKs, said he inspects the mangrove site every three days or often, especially during typhoons, to immediately replace the dead ones and secure the others with ties.
“The work is not really hard especially when we’re thinking that what we’re doing is not only for the benefit of my own family but for the whole village in the generations to come,” Yaba said.
In the video documentary, the LKs in Sta. Teresa were seen busy attending to the newly planted mangroves in a new site.
Some were replacing the dead ones among those that were planted last year and in three other succeeding occasions while others were strengthening the ties that bind the propagules to the bamboo sticks.
The other LKs in the company of other volunteers were constructing bamboo fences to prevent boats from entering the mangrove forest.
Calayag said each LK receives a P300 monthly honorarium. He said they would ask the provincial government to extend additional remuneration to the mangrove guardians.
But for Yaba and Lara, the measly payment in exchange for their work is not important.
“I will continue to perform my duty to preserve and protect the mangroves until I die. I want to serve as an inspiration to other people that environmental protection is a noble task,” Lara said.
Yaba said the return of the mangrove forest in their village with different marine species is more than enough compensation for him.
“The sight of teeming shrimps again at the mangrove site is enough payment for me. That means a promising future for the environment and our people,” he said.
Calayag explained the heightened environmental awareness among coastal villagers resulted from the massive education and information campaign conducted in partnership with the provincial government, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and nongovernment organizations.
He said that in five years, Quezon will be known as the Philippine’s “mangrove haven” with a high survival rate of more than two million propagules that were mass-planted.