Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a 175-hectare nature reserve that acts as a natural shield against the threatening whips of typhoons: lushes of trees and green grass pumped with precious fresh air that’s long been taken away from the metro. Right there is exactly where 90 species of both local and migratory birds also take flight as their avian refuge, where salt marshes and an abundant number of mussels and oysters can be hauled out for the livelihood of the local fisherfolk, where a periphery of mangroves repose, and where a lagoon functions as an outlet for major waterways in two cities.
Sounds promising, right? Now, close your eyes; breathe deeply. Is this something you want to see in the world you live in? Yes? Great. Let’s expound more on that: this nature reserve is the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA), which consists of two islands called Freedom Island and Long Island, collectively known as the Freedom Islands. It is said that the islands were named for being free, or “malaya,” years ago because it served as the people’s place for solace when Martial Law came in full effect during the regime of the late president Ferdinand Marcos.
“Noong panahon na binaba yung Martial Law, ito yung lugar na malaya sila kasi hindi siya mako-cover ng batas dahil tawid dagat pa talaga siya, hindi kagaya ngayon na pinagdugtong na siya na pulo,” Save Freedom Island Movement (SFIM) Campaign Director Glacy Macabale shares.
All of this dearness lasted until human and industrial waste started piling up in the once piece of haven in the metro and the money-making monsters saw it with sparkly eyes as a profitable opportunity for urbanization and rapid environmental depletion in the form of the controversial Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and Reclamation Project (MCCRRP) that popped back in 2011.
And that’s when the fight for freedom started. Being the last remaining mangrove frontier in Metro Manila, which is something uncommonly found in the chaotic metro scene, Freedom Island has been saved by different organizations such as Earth Island, Wild Bird Club, Kadamay, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and SFIM from the mountain-ranging waste and from corporate exploitation and foreign interests.
“Sabi nga nung mga bumibisita na mga taga ibang bansa na iniikot namin doon sa lugar, bibihira lang yung nasa gitna ng siyudad na ganyang forest area kaya napakahalaga na pangalagaan. Kaya nasa atin yung ganong task para wag hayaan na maging building siya na kagaya ng mga nauna kasi yung epekto niya, tayo yung mga next generation ang makakaranas,” Macabale points out.
A series of efforts to save Freedom Island was made, such as raising of awareness through clean-up drives, lectures, immersion programs, and signature campaigns. In 2012, a Writ of Kalikasan case was filed and supported by Senator Cynthia Villar, but it unfortunately went unnoticed by the Court of Appeals and is currently pending in the Supreme Court when raised back in 2013.
“Yun yung ginamit sa 2012 ng Writ of Kalikasan case na finile ni Senator Cynthia Villar para magkaroon sana ng temporary restraining order para ipatigil yung reclamation plan doon sa lugar. Sa kasamaang palad, nabasura siya sa Court of Appeals. Ngayon, nakapending siya sa Supreme Court,” she states in disappointment.
But it didn’t stop there. The universe fortunately conspired with the campaign when the LPPCHEA became internationally acclaimed as a Ramsar site, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources—as excerpted from their website. Meaning, the Freedom Islands has a fifty-fifty chance of not being included in the 635-hectare MCCRRP because of its international importance.
“Hindi pa natutuloy yung reclamation pero sa ngayon hindi sila makaporma dahil may international importance na yung lugar. Pero dahil under ng National Project yung reclamation, anytime possible talaga siyang ituloy kapag hindi kami mapagbantay doon sa plano ng government,” Macabale continues.
To keep the campaign going strong as it is, the general public, especially the youth, are highly encouraged to seriously take part and volunteer in saving the Freedom Islands.
On April 1, a clean-up drive will be held in the island, followed by a bike ride event on April 17. Should the general public be not available on the mentioned dates, SFIM organizes regular clean-up drives, giving people a chance to participate.
For tree planting sessions, it is best to do so in June to September, when the rainy season comes in. Meanwhile, for bird-watching and responsible nature walking activities, the migratory month starts from September to February, right when the cold season peaks off. Know that when bird-watching, only a certain attire and number people are allowed to get in, to not disturb the local and migratory birds, such as egrets, kingfishers, white-collared kingfishers, straightened herons, and black-crowned night herons.
Freedom Islands book
In collaboration with Nikon Club Philippines, Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc., Villar SIPAG, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a book of native plants evidently seen in Freedom Islands is set to be published and be out in the market this year. A number of flowers and plants have already been shot last year, and the remaining twenty-two shall also be photographed this year.
For inquiries and other concerns, contact Save Freedom Island Movement at [email protected]
Photo courtesy of Freedom Island Movement