December 8, 2023

The Gran Cordillera Central is generally described as having rugged terrain and expansive peaks bisected by rivers and valleys interspersed with settlements and farmlands.

High elevation areas, especially the mountaintops seem like “submerged in a sea of fluffy white clouds, feathery wisps enveloping the peaks like a kingdom of the air,” quoting novelist Gina Marinello-Sweeney. Such fluffy clouds often descend as fogs blanketing the slopes and valleys rendering the surroundings fuzzy or veiled.

The clouds, fog, rain, warm, and cool air are parts of the global weather system that is regulated by the oceans, seas, and the atmosphere. Locally, there is the southeast monsoon from the South China Sea, typhoons from the Pacific Ocean, and the ephemeral thunderstorms, which sustain our fresh water resources in lakes, rivers, aquifers, reservoirs, and soil.

Indeed, the Gran Cordillera Central is ecologically integrated with the coastal areas and marine waters along the South China Sea. The Cordillera is the headwaters of several river systems that drain into the coast such as the Abra, Agno, Amburayan, and Chico Rivers contributing nutrients to the sea, thereby enhancing marine biodiversity.

The downside of such run-offs would be the presence of anthropogenic pollutants, including debris and plastics in the marine environment.

The Philippines is an archipelagic country with 7,641 islands, of which 26 percent are inhabited and a maritime jurisdiction that includes the Exclusive Economic Zone covering an area of 2.2 million square kilometers and a coastline of 36,289 kilometers.

A CRUCIAL WATERSHED — The Mount Pulag National Park covering 11,500 hectares is an extremely important watershed being the source of several tributaries that flow into major river systems in Northern Luzon. — Harley F. Palangchao

Such exclusive jurisdiction contains vast marine and maritime resources with economic and other developmental potentials for the country and its peoples across generations. Understandably due to geographical placement of populations, among peoples living further inland and, in the highlands, their familiarity with the marine environment as well as awareness and knowledge vary across localities, generally disjunct, and inadequate.

The coast, especially the near shore areas and beaches, are utilized as tourist spots and often treaded with disrespectful ebullience that sometimes led to tragic consequences. This state of affairs is certainly untenable.

Presidential Proclamation 316 signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte on Sept. 14, 2017 declares the month of September of every year as the “Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month” or Manamo, which is a fitting acronym.

Apart from three action-oriented activities on the conservation of fisheries, organizing an international coastal clean-up day and the celebration of the National Maritime Day on the last Friday of the month, PP 316 aims to raise public awareness on maritime and archipelagic concerns and to encourage people participation in maritime activities through public-private partnership.

Public awareness can be invoked through the use of social media during outreach activities as well as inclusion of teaching materials in school curricula at all levels.

While the action-oriented activities concern coastal LGUs and communities, there are synergistic activities for non-coastal communities, particularly in the Gran Cordillera Central highlands, to complement and support the endeavors in the coastal area.

MIGHTY AMBURAYAN RIVER — Originating from the Cordillera mountains, the mighty Amburayan River spanning close to 100 kilometers traverses the provinces of Benguet, La Union, and Ilocos Sur then empties into the South China Sea. — Harley F. Palangchao

Aside from public awareness on the marine environment, communities in the Cordillera highlands can undertake clean-up and/or rehabilitation of rivers that drain into South China Sea to reduce run-off of pollutants and debris like plastics and solid waste.

The Balili River rehabilitation project by the local governments of Baguio and La Trinidad is an example. Such cleanup not only adds to the river in aesthetics but also improves its water quality to support myriads of aquatic species and minimize water-borne disease-carrying organisms.

Plastics in the sea have now become an international issue and the United Nations Assembly is working towards a legally binding instrument against plastic pollution by 2024.

Intensive agriculture is one of the economic assets of the Cordillera, able to supply significant tonnage of highland vegetables in almost all the key cities in the country. Such agricultural practices entail the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and drugs (hormones and antibiotics) that get into rivers that discharge into the sea causing pesticide and nutrient pollution as well as entering into the food chain.

High nutrient input in the sea can lead to eutrophication and heavy algal blooms and are deleterious to humans and fisheries. Such practices could be mi-nimized through recycling, composting and the application of sustainable organic farming practices for both vegetables and livestock.

As regards the National Maritime Day, a similar event is also observed in many countries during September complementing the World Maritime Day in London led by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations technical agency on shipping and maritime concerns.

For the Philippines, the celebration of the National Maritime Day could be in the form of tangible tri-butes like public awareness campaigns and recognition of those exemplary citizens and communities for their efforts and contributions in support of the action-activities under PP 316.

We live in an interconnected world, from the Internet to the subtle ecological processes that make this planet a habitable world. Anything that we do will always have good or bad consequences.

We should therefore be prudent and mindful in our present and future actions on the environment. ¢