Published from http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/349627/cynthia-villar-saves-a-river
By DEEDEE M. SIYTANGCO
January 29, 2012, 4:28am
Cynthia Villar, former congresswoman and the better half of Senator Manny, was a very special guest in our Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel, our session’s first in the new year. She was gracious and endearing as she talked about her twin advocacies – saving a river and securing livelihoods.
Giant goals, but since the Villar Foundation launched the Sagip Ilog in 2005, Cynthia, with Manny’s full support, has been able to achieve them, winning a slew of international recognition in the process.
Ironically, while Cynthia’s projects have won accolades abroad, insular minds here have not deemed them worthy to be publicly recognized here. Cynthia shrugged off this “snub” saying, “That’s local politics for you… but it’s enough that I see our river flowing again, the water hyacinths that used to clog them gone and put to good use, and my co-Las Piñeros earning decent incomes from making use of recycled garbage, dried stalks and other materials.”
Everything, she marveled, just fell in place once she accepted what she saw was her opportunity to clean up the Las Piñas-Zapote river and help her beloved city.
She met an exporter who showed her how to make use of the dried water hyacinths that were clogging up the river for decades. It took a while, but the unemployed women, and yes, men soon learned from trainors hired by the foundation how to turn the dried stalks to slippers bags, baskets, boxes for cabinets and other saleable household and office products. Once the people started to earn from their products, they stayed on.
But the problem of unofficial settlers or riverbank squatter families had to be solved too as tons of garbage were daily being dumped into the river. Manny helped out by donating dredging equipment and the local government cooperated in moving out the families and putting them in relocation sites under the Community Mortgage Program.
In their place, Cynthia planted thousands (last count, 20,000) of bamboo trees which helped green the riverbanks and helped “hold” the soil. Then she also got into a hand-weaving project after purchasing hand looms from Baguio.
This took time as the weaving process had to be learned and not all those who took the initial classes persevered. But Cynthia did and now the weaving livelihood program of the foundation turns out blankets that are given to disaster victims.
“Now we don’t have to buy blankets from China to give out to distressed families,” Cynthia proudly told us.
Another inspiration for Cynthia was what to do with coconut husks from vendors who just stacked them anywhere in Las Piñas. These waste products were gathered and woven into coco mats through the technology developed by a local scientist from Bicol, Dr. Arboleda. These “mats” were used instead of cement to shore up slopes and have been proven very effective. Plants are grown between their interlocking panels and these help contain the soil.
Another waste product, coco peat is used for making organic fertilizer, a successful program of the foundation, again generating incomes for the people involved. And what does Cynthia do with waste products like plastics? The foundation has invested in a machine that turns them into pellets and made into hallow blocks for construction projects!
What sets Cynthia apart from other environmental warriors is that she is willing to replicate Las Piñas’ successes in other places regardless of political affiliations. She has gone to as far as Mindanao and wherever she is invited to share her programs. Truly, the Villars live by their personal, business and political mantra, “Sikap at Tiyaga” (industriousness and perseverance).
I also want to share the wishes of Senator Loren Legarda for the new year which is so apt for all – “my wish is for all of us to adapt to climate change and to make our communities disaster-resilient. My prayer is for the vulnerable and marginalized to recover and be empowered. My hope is for us to redefine development that will give us true quality of life and happiness.”
Let’s all turn green!