LABANGAN, ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR – Unable to bear the negative environmental impact, hundreds of residents of this agriculture-dependent city held a rally on Wednesday to demand a moratorium on quarrying along the Labangan River.
The protesters, many of whom are Moro and indigenous Subanen people, occupied part of the Tapodoc Bridge along the national highway, partially restricting the flow of vehicular traffic.
Labangan chief Timuay Braulio Anlimon, who is also chief claimant of a Subanen ancestral domain covering parts of Labangan town, said the protesters are mainly from the villages of Binayan, Langapod, Bagalupa, Noboran and Cogonan, with some others from came outside the region. city to express solidarity with their struggle to restore the ecological status of the river.
Anlimon told journalists that hundreds more people could not join the rally because the road from the villages of Noboran and Cogonan was blocked with gravel, apparently to prevent them from participating.
The tribal leader noted that the river had fallen victim to quarrying over the past fifty years, becoming the main source of aggregates for the booming construction industry, especially in the nearby town of Pagadian.
Anlimon said they are urging authorities to impose a five-year rest on extraction to give the river time to heal.
He complained that as a result of the often mechanized and large-scale sand and gravel extraction upstream, communities downstream face soil erosion.
He added that during heavy rains, the river usually overflows, and years ago the influx of floods destroyed a spillway in Barangay Langapod, cutting off this and other villages in the hinterland of nearby Pagadian City from the market centers.
The spillway was used to facilitate the transportation of agricultural products from these communities.
The regular floods also destroy rice fields downstream, Anlimon said.
Roads were also severely damaged by the regular passage of large trucks and digging equipment.
The Labangan River basin covers about 446 square kilometers with a floodplain area of 151 square kilometers. From its source, the river winds mainly through the town of Labangan, bringing irrigation water to the vast rice-producing valley.
Anlimon called on local officials, especially Labangan Mayor Eduardo Relacion and Zamboanga del Sur Governor Victor Yu, who he said “had their own quarries among many others,” to stop the activity and helping with the call for river restoration.”
Relacion, who was interviewed after the meeting, vowed to shut down his own family’s quarrying operation and convene his legal team and the members of the Sangguniang Bayan to discuss what they can do to address the river’s current situation .
As city leader, the mayor said he had to lead the call.
Labangan Vice Mayor Azralf Manupac said they plan to hold a dialogue with Subanen leaders to determine what possible legal steps they can take to address the concerns.
Anlimon said if local officials fail to respond to the people’s calls for the river’s restoration, they will take further action to raise the concerns with the national government.
Yu did not respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment on the protesters’ demands.
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