by Samira Gutoc

Representatives of the  Province of Lanao del Sur are supporting the creation of a Lake Lanao Development Authority  (LLDA) to oversee the development and protection of the country’s largest freshwater lake.

Filed by Senator Loren Legarda last June, the bill comes in the light of environmental concerns of residents, who have been affected by flooding due to illegal logging, wastewater discharges by a growing population and the presence of six hydro electric power plants (HEPP). Six hydroelectric power plants of the National Power Corporation (NPC) depend on the waters of Lake Lanao and its tributary Agus river for its 727.35 MW of electric power generated daily.

Proponents of the yet unbuilt Agus HEPP 3 in Baloi, Lanao del Norte aim to augment the power requirements of Mindanao which is projected to increase by 11 % over the next 5-10 years due to rapid developments in the island.

Noting that the water level of Lake Lanao continues to decline, lone Mindanaoan senator Aquilino Pimentel said the conservation of the lake is of critical importance due to  the looming power crisis in the whole of Mindanao.

Despite hosting the Agus grids, Lanao del Sur, with its 39 municipalities , and  Marawi City belong to the poorest local units in the country, compounded by the lack of adequate supply of electricity.

The Local government and civil society representatives jointly pushed for the protection of the watershed and environs of Lake Lanao, the source of hydro-electric power for the power plants, located along the Agus river, operated by the National Power Corporation (NPC) in the cities of Marawi and Iligan since 1961.

Department of Energy (DOE) representative, Leo Carrios said Lanao del Sur  and Marawi are considered as  host communities, which by virtue of Energy Regulation 1-94  should benefit from 1 cent per kilowatt hour of electricity sales of NPC .

This Electrification fund is held in trust by DOE which NPC administers. One half of the  one centavo per kilowatt hour will be further divided to the host community and host facility.  

NPC identifies projects under the Development and Livelihood Fund (DLF) at 25% of one centavo per kWh  (P0.0025/kWh) and Reforestation, Watershed Management, Health and/or Environment Enhancement  (RWMHEE) through the local governments .

The DOE report as of June 2007 states that the province of Lanao del Sur has a balance of 3455593 for DLF and 703,996 for RWMHEE. But Carrios cautions that NPC has a standing balance of 1.8 billion which NPC failed to remit to DOE, despite the requirement for NPC to file its quarterly sales.

Injustice to the Muslims?

Civil society representatives however asked an accounting of where the 1 centavo per kilowatt hour went. “This quarter of a centavo per kilowatt hour devoted for watershed is not beneficial,” said Engr Pipalawan Naga of the Save Lake Lanao Movement (SALAM), saying they had sent letters to the National Power Corporation (NPC) and Department of Energy (DOE) without reply.  “No notice is given nor report provided to say how the money was spent and how we can access it.”

“The source of energy has no energy,” said Baliamen Mamainte  Jr of the Provincial Government, referring to the chronic brownouts in Lanao del Sur and Marawi City. “We also pay higher rates of electricity than other Mindanao areas despite providing the source of energy for the island, ” said Padoman Paporo of the Philippine Muslim Women Council (PMWC).

Lawyer Hamid Barra said the lake should work for the development of the Muslims since “we are left behind.” In depriving the Maranaos of the use of the lake, Barra cited three “injustices to the Muslims” to include  identity, independence and integral development.

Lake Lanao is said to be sourced from the word, Maranao, the people of Lanao del Sur.  In local dialect, Maranao means dwellers of the lake.

Barra cited Islamic concepts to justify environmentalism. “As khilafah, viceregents on earth, second to enjoin what is good, and forbid what is wrong and taklisul ard, beautification of the earth.”

Who is Accountable?

Is lake lanao management the duty of  National Government, ARMM or the local government?

With an area of 194,160 hectares, the watershed reservation of Lanao del Sur is said to be one of the widest in the country.

While DENR-National and NPC have jointly entered a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in 2005 to provide for Lake Lanao rehabilitation, concerns over the lack of effective management of lake usership were raised.

“Everybody is responsible but who is accountable? For instance, what are the plans of the 18 watershed municipalities in protecting the   watershed?,” posed development analyst, Dr. Ernesto Guiang of Ecogov.

“The LGU by its own powers as mandated in the Local Government Code can adopt such masterplans officially, allocate their own resources, create mechanisms and even establish corporate entities, raise local bonds or other financing instruments that can fund the purpose of the entity, and with the help of external development agencies, donors and financing instiutions can lead the implementation of such plan,” development worker, Jerry Pacturan said.

Guiang suggested the formation of a Project Management Office under the Office of the Governor with national government funding that would organize a workplan which would harness stakeholdership , craft an investment plan, study the imposition of users fee, among others.

Legal Basis for Lake Protection

Legal analysts provided justifications for host communities to claim environmental protection starting with 1992 Proclamation 87 which states Lake Lanao to be protected watershed reservation, Republic Act No. 7586 otherwise known as the “National integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992, the ARMM Act 161 providing for the creation of an LLDA, the Local Government Code, Republic Act No. 9136, otherwise known as “Electric Power Industry Reform Act  (EPIRA) Law, Clean Water Act of 2004, DENR issuances  and even the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) as a model.

The National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 1992 defines a  Protected area to be “identified portions of land and water set aside by reasons of their unique physical and biological significance, managed to enhance biological diversity and protected against destructive human exploitation.”

“The Legarda bill is but a long-term option, the short term plan is to mobilize the local government and the people,” said Naga, the provincial chairperson of the Lake Lanao Technical Working Group of the Province of Lanao del Sur .