Lake Danao: a struggle for the poverty alleviation of farmers and the preservation of the natural area
If we had to describe the Justimbaste couple in one word, we would say « engagement » . Since 1989, Emil and Jean have been fighting to help the poorest to find sustainable solutions to get out of poverty. They created the Pagtinabangay foundation whose aim was initially to provide microfinance services to small vendors in Ormoc. Some international organizations such as Oxfam gave them grants and they extended the microfinance loans to farmers. What the Justimbaste want to do is community organizing. They help the communities to create People’s Organizations (POs) to preserve the environment and alleviate poverty.
In 2003, Pagtinabangay got a grant for two years from the UNDP Small Grant Program to fight against deforestation in Lake Danao area. This lake is part of a protected area but the farmers, who are very poor, cut a lot of trees to sell the wood and to get cleared lands for agriculture. In order to stop the damages in the watershed area, which is very important for the population of Ormoc, Pagtinabangay organized trainings to encourage farmers to go for organic farming. The use of natural pesticides and fertilizers (composting, carnivores that eat herbivores) avoid harmful chemicals such as the pesticides to be released in the lake. Moreover, the products from organic farming are usually sold at a higher price, allowing for a better return per square meter of land. With the help of the Visayas State University, Pagtinabangay conducted an inventory of the flora and fauna to monitor the biodiversity in Lake Danao Protected Area.
Pangtinabangay also worked on a project of ecotourism to generate an additional livelihood for the local community. A lodge was built on site and guides from the community were trained. Unfortunately, in 2006, the media displayed the news that the lake was contaminated by E. Coli, a bacteria mainly found in excrements, probably due to the settlement of villages nearby the lake. Tourists did not come anymore and the project stopped. Since then, the Justimbaste have continuously worked to help the communities organize themselves into groups of interest and to have a better management of their public affairs. They are member of different POs and Jean is a member of the Protected Area Management Board. Emil and Jean are both known for their frankness and as they say, “we make noise” (this is why the current local government is not inviting them to meetings anymore). Their next step: to have a direct impact on the policy of the local government of a municipality near Ormoc. They are supporting the candidate of the opposition for the next election; if he wins he will implement their economic and social program.
Concerning tourism, new projects for the development of tourism in Lake Danao were implemented by the municipality of Ormoc in 2011. The tourism office organized the youth of the community into the “Bogsay” PO, which in in charge of the tourism center in Lake Danao. Helped by the Department Of Tourism and by a partnership between a German NGO and the Chamber of Commerce of Ormoc, the municipality trained 18 guides and financed infrastructures such as toilets. Roads will also be improved and there is a project of installation of a view deck. With 4,136 tourists in the first semester of 2012, the municipality of Ormoc now hopes that the private sector will invest to build restaurants and other infrastructures for tourists.