MARAWI CITY – Lanao del Sur is one of the poor provinces in the country where electricity has been deprived from most households surrounding the lake, yet it is home to Mindanao’s main source of power – the majestic Lake ‘Lanao.’
The challenge to keep it to sustain life and culture is formidable.
The lake straddles 19 municipalities of Lanao del Sur. It has been a source of livelihood and water by the people living around the lake.
The lake is the identity of the Meranaw people.
Prof. Pandao Bula, special assistant of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension (OVCRE) of Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi, recalled one theory on how the lake came to be. “A volcano erupted and gave way for water to spew from below until it formed into the now renowned second largest lake as well as the largest fresh water one in the country; and one of the 17 ancient lakes in the world.
Known also as ‘Ranao’ and ‘Agus,’ the lake was declared a national park in 1965 through a republic act with six other sites in Lanao del Sur.
Presently, there has been a motion to permanently change the Lake’s name into ‘Ranao’ because the term ‘lanao,’ in Meranaw, means ‘lake and that people commented that it would be redundant to call it Lake Lanao, which means ‘Lake Lake,’ Bula told Sun*Star Cagayan de Oro.
The lake is 340 square kilometers wide and about 114 meters deep. Nineteen municipalities including Marawi surround the lake: Marawi City, Balindong, Tugaya, Marantao, Bacolod Grande, Madalum, Madamba, Ganasi, Binidayan, Bayang, Lumbatan, Masiu, Tamparan, Taraka, Ramain, Buadi Puso, Poona Bayabao, Mulondo, and Bubong.
The rivers of Taraka, Gata, Masiu, and Bacayawan feed water to the lake. Its only outlet is the Agus river found southwest of Iligan Bay.
The mountain ranges of the lake are adjacent to Bukidnon, located at the eastern part of the lake. The southern part leads to Maguindanao while the northern part, in Piagapo and Saguiran municipalities, Bula furthered.
Lake Lanao’s watershed is also declared one of the 18 major watersheds in the Philippines, out of the almost 400 in the country. One of the considerations for declaring such is the land area of the watershed, where, Lanao has 186,000 hectares of it.
Culture and identity of the Meranaw people
The lake is a million years old and has been the center of life and living of the Meranaws. The term ‘meranaw’ means ‘people from the lake’ or ‘people from Lanao.’ Main source of living around the lake is fishing, farming, as well as transportation, Bula continued.
The Darangen, a Meranaw folklore and longest epic of the world, also had stories on how the lake came to be. It was said that the lake was created because the angels had to move the population of Sultan Mantapoli who lived where the lake now sits.
The four islands in the middle of the lake: Balt Island I and 2, Nusa Island, and S’langan Island in the legend, said to have appeared because the giants Makaugis and Macaan, in their fight, threw the islands at each other.
The lake is also important to the Muslims to perform ablution or the washing of hands, feet, and face before praying, said Asmerah Manabilang Barambangan, chairperson of Barangay Raya Madaya 1 of Marawi City and head of the recent attempt for a Guinness World Record for the longest paper boat race.
Some Meranaws living beside the lake also continue to drink the water there. Previous studies declared the water as Class D or only suitable for irrigation and energy. However, it was disproved by newer studies by Sabdullah Abubakar, director of the Environmental Management Bureau of Region X. He said despite the numerous residential houses teeming around the lake and the problem on solid wastes the lake is currently suffering from, the water is still Class A—suitable for drinking.
Suitable for drinking it may be but the lake’s water is, however, contaminated with E. coli bacteria.
Prof. Yusoph Latip, department chair of the Communications and Media Studiest at MSU, shared that in 2012 some Meranaws had gotten used to the bacteria and that their stomachs have developed resistance against it.
Species of fish
About 18 species of fish are present in the lake, three of which are endemic: Puntius Siarang Herre, called Tumaginting in Meranaw; Puntius Katolo or Katolong in Meranaw, and Puntius tumba Herre or Tumba in Meranaw.
Ten species of fish had already been extinct: Puntius clemensi Herre (in Meranaw, Bagangan), Puntius lanaoensis Herre (Kandar), Puntius disa Herre (Disa), Puntius flavifuscus Herre (Katapa-tapa), Puntius baolan Herre Baolan, Puntius manalak Herre (Manalak), Puntius lindog Herre (Lindog), Puntius amarus (Pait), Ospatulus truncatulus (Betungu), and Spratellicypris palata (Manobud), according to the records at the Aga Khan Museum in MSU Marawi.
The extinction as well as decrease in the catch of fish has been caused by the “non-observance of fishing regulations by local fishermen,” there is also the spread of the voracious fish ‘katong’ which eats snails, small fishes, and even its own kind, stated the study of Prof. Pedro Escudero, a faculty of the college of Fisheries of MSU Marawi.
Energy for Mindanao
About 70 percent of electricity in Mindanao comes from Lake Lanao through the Agus river, Bula said.
Mechanical energy from the water turbines is converted to electricity to the Mindanao grid by six power plants: Agus 1, 2, and 4 to 6. The construction of Agus 3 plant is still ongoing and it will the biggest among the Agus powerplants, said Prof. Danilo Mero of MSU’s college of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Degradation of the lake
The lake faces many challenges over the years, for one, the hard-to-manage solid wastes being thrown to the lake, most are non-biodegradable, said Bula.
Fortunately, there aren’t factories around the lake.
He also cited that in 2006, there was a massive growth of green algae because of the fertilizers that flow from the irrigations from the upland and the solid wastes from the lowland farming.
Barambangan added that other pressing problems of the lake are immoderate water fluctuations, introduction of foreign species of water animals in the lake, which may eat endemic species; as well as lack of authority for the lake’s protection and preservation.
High poverty incidence
“We have this blue gold (Lake Lanao) yet our community is facing high poverty incidence,” she furthered. “The problem is not the lake but the people.”
Commercial logging, however, is not much a big problem there since only timber poaching is done in the lake. Mero said that it is almost negligible since the wood taken from the lake are easily regenerated by nature’s natural ability.
Interventions to save the ancient lake
MSU Marawi, together with Tanggol Kalikasan gave trainings to 372 mayors and officials of the municipalities around the lake, teaching them about the basic concepts of ecology, fisheries resources, and others. The program, said Bula, was fit for Meranaws and Muslims for the advocacy of preserving the lake.
Barambangan said that their barangay has the lake promotion and awareness campaign dubbed as Project RaNOW which does regular lake clean-up, tree-planting activities, and pursuing mandates to prohibit pollution of the lake.
She also deemed that educating the youth about the lake is needed, adding that, “if we want a long-term substantial change in the lake and in our community in general, what we need is a radical change of attitude.”
In October 2014 also, there was an attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the most number of trees planted in a single hour. The current record holder is India with about 1.8 Million seedlings. The number of seedlings planted in the lake for the event was estimated to be 3.8 Million, said Mero
Mero added the people of the lake would disagree with a project if the name used for the lake is ‘Agus’ instead of ‘Lanao.’ However, in some projects, the name ‘Agus’ is used.
The government launched a project for the preservation of the river basins in the country, giving development funds. For development funds to be released, a river basin council and a masterplan are required, Mero furthered.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also created the River Basin Control Office years ago, announcing a bid for P45 million per basin project to create a masterplan in preserving the watersheds.
On December 4, 2014, the project to preserve the lake was awarded to University of the Philippines Los Baños by Regional Development Council 10 (RDC-10). The fund amounts to P19 million for 15 years to push the project dubbed as “Integrated River Basin Management.
The need to preserve and treasure
“Just like any other community needs water to survive, the Meranaw people place reliance upon water for survival,” said Barambangan. “We are Meranaws because of the “Ranao.” Our forefathers fought heroically for our territory and people have got to realize that we have a bigger battle to fight now and it’s against ourselves.”
“We are watching our home slowly die every day and we don’t take action or responsibility. By ‘home,’ I mean not only the lake, but our homeland, the mountains, our families, the youth, culture, and peace,” she continued.
The lake is “a spiritual component of the Muslims,” Bula also said.
Lastly, “Ranow is the name of the Meranaws,” he said.
Mero continued: “It is because water is life. If there will be no more Lake “Lanao,” there will no longer be Meranaws.”