PHILIPPINES – Legend tells the tale of a local folk hero named Lam-ang, a man born with extraordinary strength and ability, who once bathed in the waters of the Amburayan River after an epic battle. The story of Lam-ang has been passed on from generation to generation, perhaps during nights where families sat huddled near campfires after a long day of toiling in the fields or hunting through the forests.
Today, that story was re-told in front of a group of local government officials, agencies and other stakeholders looking to save the Amburayan River and manage its resources. Provincial Planning & Development Coordinator (PPDC) for Ilocos Sur Dr. Enrie Mendoza reviewed Lam-ang’s story to highlight the significance of the river, not just as a vital source of water for irrigation and livelihood but also as a reminder of our culture and identity. The story of Lam-ang may be fictional, but the epic river mentioned in the tale and its current issues are all too real.
Amburayan runs through 3 Philippine provinces namely, Benguet, Ilocos Sur and La Union. Former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) undersecretary Rolando Metin mentioned that efforts have been made in each province to revive the river but an integrated plan is needed.
Last October 8, 2014, the Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation Inc. held a symposium for the Amburayan River and watersheds. It was a chance for local government officials from Benguet, Ilocos Sur and La Union to come together and discuss relevant issues. “If you sell the forests, it is akin to depriving your children and grandchildren of water” proclaimed Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan in his opening address. Provincial Planning & Development Coordinator (PPDC) for La Union Mauro Labatique mentioned that the symposium paved the way for the discussion of collaborative partnerships instead of boundary disputes.
Dr. Neil Mallari facilitated an activity where stakeholders were asked to envision and share their dreams for the future of Amburayan and the roles and responsibilities each one would take in pursuit of those dreams. Goals were set in the interest of all the communities affected, transcending boundaries and individual interest. USAID PHILAM Grants Manager Glen de Castro mentioned that saving the Amburayan requires a partnership between local government and civil service organizations because it involves the management of common resources.
The Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation is leading a 3-year project supported by the USAID PHILAM fund which aims to protect and defend the Amburayan river basin and watersheds through good governance and active people’s participation. The project shall organize an Amburayan River & Watershed Governing Board or Council among stakeholders, prepare an Amburayan Integrated Water Resource Management Plan, conduct assessment of the river water quality & prepare it for designation as Water Quality Management Area.
The project will capacitate local communities and the provincial LGUs of Benguet, Ilocos Sur and La Union, specifically the municipalities of Atok, Tublay, Buguias, Kibungan, Kapangan, Bakun, Alilem, Sugpon, Tagudin, Sudipen, Santol and Bangar. Concerted efforts from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), National Water Resources Board (NWRB), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Agriculture (DAR) and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) for CAR and Region 1 will be coordinated along with the assistance of Aboitiz Power, Benguet State University, Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, University of the Philippines-Baguio and the University of Northern Philippines all in the effort to protect and manage the Amburayan river and watersheds. The symposium was held at Citylight Hotel, Baguio City as a formal kick-off of the project.