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  • Writer's pictureBy The Financial District

Bakhawan Stewards: Philippine Mangrove Heroes

The Philippines is one of the most storm-prone countries in the world, facing the brunt of tropical typhoons from the Pacific Ocean.


Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of Mangrove Conservation: whose unwavering commitment to preserving mangrove forests is changing lives and protecting communities across the Philippines. | Photo: One Meralco Foundation



Standing strong to protect against these natural hazards are the mangrove areas which have been slowly depleting. Fortunately, stewards of the mangroves, or bakhawan, are at the helm of nature's undervalued yet great green defenders.


These bakhawan stewards are committed to their mission to guard and expand the wetland forests at all costs.



Delailah Lacadue of Aringay, La Union; Retchie Sacapaño of Ibajay, Aklan; and Gina Barquilla of Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte, demonstrate unparalleled determination in involving their communities to plant, nurture, and watch over the mangroves.


Their efforts protect and provide for their communities' daily needs. These community-driven initiatives are supported by One Meralco Foundation (OMF), which helps local governments and people's organizations regrow their forests as part of its environmental sustainability program, One For Trees (OFT).


 

La Union's Legacy Bakhawan Leader


Delailah Lacadue leads the Dulao Fishpond/Fishpen Producers Cooperative in caring for the mangrove forests in Barangay Dulao, Aringay, La Union. Delailah’s journey began in 1986 when her mother planted the first mangrove trees in their community.


She learned the importance of mangroves as a major source of food and livelihood, prompting her to become adept at collecting propagules and growing bakhawan.

 


In 2021, she left her job as a barangay nutritionist to become a full-time mangrove farmer and fisherfolk, becoming the first president of the cooperative. She educates the community on their role in caring for the mangroves and how they benefit from it.


Delailah explains, "The mangrove forests provide for us. Its healthy roots become the home of many species of fish and crustaceans and has become a source of food and livelihood for us.”



Supporting the cooperative is Fostering Education & Environment for Development (FEED), one of OMF’s partners.


Through FEED’s help, OMF extended its reforestation efforts to Barangay Dulao, planting and nurturing 25,000 mangrove propagules. This initiative expanded the mangrove site to two hectares, providing an effective barrier during strong storms like super typhoon Egay (Doksuri) in 2023.



Aklan's Mangrove Eco-Tourism Advocate


Retchie Sacapaño from Ibajay, Aklan, found a unique way to earn income while taking care of the environment: planting and nurturing mangroves.


Growing up along the mangrove forests, she discovered their importance when she joined the Bugtongbato Fisherfolk Association (BFA) in 2010.

 

The Ibajay Mangrove Forest (Katunggan It Ibajay or KII) is a beach forest that provides livelihood to two barangays. It has evolved into an ecotourism park managed by people's organizations like BFA.



Residents, including Retchie, underwent seminars to appreciate and learn how mangroves can provide food and a stable livelihood.


"We don't just earn money from being tour guides; we also educate our visitors on why we must plant more and preserve our forests," said Retchie, now the BFA’s treasurer.

 

OMF, through the local government of Ibajay, funded the planting of 50,000 mangroves, equipping tree farmers to lead KII’s mangrove rehabilitation. These efforts provide tree farmers with another source of income and ensure the community’s protection from storms and hunger.



Siargao Island's Fierce Wetlands Protector


Gina Barquilla, the Del Carmen Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer, exemplifies how local governments can involve communities in environmental stewardship.


Siargao, known for its surfing, is home to one of the Philippines' largest contiguous mangrove forests. Gina’s mission began in response to the rampant illegal cutting of mangroves, which destroyed fish habitats and diminished the community's natural storm barriers.

 



By raising awareness, providing alternative incomes, and educating residents on the benefits of healthy mangroves, Gina's efforts have transformed the community.


Former mangrove poachers joined organizations like Kaanib ng mga Mangingisda at Magsasaka ng Numancia Aqua-Agrikultura (KAMAMANA), aiming to stop mangrove cutting and illegal fishing.


OMF partnered with KAMAMANA and the local government, planting 125,000 mangrove propagules in three sites, covering 50 hectares.



Celebrating World Environment Day


As the world celebrates World Environment Day this month, OMF recognizes these exceptional women employing nature-based solutions to restore the land and protect the planet for a sustainable future.


Their commitment aligns with the theme “Our land. Our future. We are #GenerationRestoration.”

 

OMF’s core project, One For Trees, aims to increase green cover by planting more trees in threatened forests and watersheds.



To date, the program has planted over 2.3 million trees, including more than 300,000 mangroves in various reforestation sites across the Philippines.

 

These inspiring stories of Delailah, Retchie, and Gina show how community-driven efforts can lead to significant environmental and socio-economic benefits, ensuring a sustainable future for generations to come.




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