The Ligawasan Marsh Stakeholders Mapping Project: Foregrounding the Marginalized
Augusto B. Gatmaytan and Leah H. Vidal
The Ligawasan Marsh is a vast marsh-complex covering 288,000 hectares across the contiguous territories of nineteen municipalities from the three provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato. Many sources have noted its environmental importance as a habitat for flora and fauna. The Ligawasan Marsh acts as a buffer-zone, absorbing waters from a number of major and lesser rivers across central Mindanao before channeling them towards to west in Cotabato City where they empty into the Moro Gulf. It is also the ancestral territory of the Islamized Magindanawn ethnic group who constitutes the vast majority of the marsh population. This population relies on the marsh for their livelihood as small farmers and fishers. Finally, the Ligawasan is also known as a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), even as peace negotiations with the Philippine government proceeds apace.
The movement to establish the Ligawasan Marsh as a Protected Area under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) has been on-going for more than a decade. In 2014, the Foundation for Philippine Environment (FPE) took the initiative of organizing academic institutions and development non-government organizatios (NGOs) into the Ligawasan Marsh Assistance Group (LMAG). During that same year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) begun to conduct public consultations regarding proposed protected area. Datu Mussolini Lidasan, Director of Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia (Al Qalam) based in Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU), and currently the chair of the LMAG, requested the Ateneo Institute of Anthropology (AIA) – another member of the LMAG – to conceptualize and conduct a study that would enhance the various government and non-government actors’ understanding of local people’s perceptions of the proposed protected area project. The idea was that this study would compliment the formal public consultations being organized and conducted by the DENR. To that end, the Ligawasan Marsh Stakeholders Mapping Project (LMSMP) was designed and implemented during the latter half of 2014.