Las Piñas has two major river systems: the 12.6 kilometer Las Piñas River and the 18.3 kilometer Zapote River. The two are linked and share 25.1 kilometer tributaries. Carelessness and neglect saw the river being used as a sewage and garbage facility; slowly, pollution and waste squeezed the life out of these rivers.
“Sagip Ilog” was launched in 2002 to resuscitate the Las Piñas and Zapote Rivers. A dredging project was started to rid the river of the thousands of plastic bags that were buried underwater. It proved to be a herculean task. Upon consultation with Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR), it was found that it would take 18 years to clean the two rivers.
Under the “Sagip Ilog” program, new equipment was secured to hasten the clean up. Volunteers started conducting values re-formation sessions with riverbank settlers to teach them about principles of recycling, solid waste management, community responsibilities and hygiene and health.
Now “Sagip Ilog” has 2,000 volunteers organized into different river watch teams. There are an estimated 265 River Watch Teams in Las Piñas and Cavite.
Water Hyacinths: from nuisance to livelihood
Another “Sagip Ilog” initiative is the clearing of the hyacinths that clogs river flow and contributes to flooding. Hyacinths are aquatic plants with light blue stalks and violet flower. They float on rivers usually in large quantities and are mistakenly referred to water lilies.
Hyacinths have been described as one of the worst aquatic weeds in the world. They can double their number within a few days; their root systems closely bind together and form thick mats, greatly hampering the movement of water transport. From underneath the water’s surface, they block the free flow of the water and contribute to flooding. The hyacinth beds are also known breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In many parts of Southeast Asia, the plants clog intakes of irrigation, hydropower and water supply systems.
Through the “Sagip Ilog” program, an alternative use was developed for these hyacinths. The plants are harvested from the river, cut and dried. The dried fibers are then used as material for making baskets, mats, hampers and other similar containers. From the nuisance that they once were, the hyacinths have become a source of livelihood. The dried hyacinth fibers are the used as raw materials to make handicrafts which are sold in the Las Piñas Arts and Crafts Center in Talon 2.
While the complete resuscitation of the river remains to be a challenge, these two projects to clean up the Las Piñas and Zapote Rivers have reaped multiple benefits: livelihood, open waterways, and the reduction of mosquito breeding areas all greatly benefiting the people of Las Piñas.
(Adapted from the book “My Journey in the Las Piñas Arts & Crafts Industry” by Cynthia Villar)