A conglomeration of three marshes, namely, Ligawasan, Libungan and Ebpanan, the Ligawasan Marsh is a premier but critical wetland ecosystem where a number of endangered endemic species can be found such as the Philippine duck. The marsh occupies an area of almost 44 thousand hectares and is part of the 288 thousand-hectare Cotabato River Basin that traverses the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato in Mindanao. More than a million people inhabit the marsh and its periphery.
Considering its vast economic and development potentials – being the repository of abundant fauna and flora, natural gas and oil deposits, and other natural resources – the marsh is coveted and targeted for development. Given its significant role in the ecological balance of Mindanao, there have been so many development attempts and initiatives implemented for conserving, protecting, preserving, and developing the different flora and fauna, and the whole ecosystem of the marsh.
As early as 1941, the Ligawasan Marsh was declared as a game reserve and bird sanctuary and is included in the list of protected areas under the 1992 National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) Act. The NIPAS law serves to protect outstandingly remarkable areas and biologically important public lands that are habitats of rare and endangered species of plants and animals representative of biogeographic zones and related ecosystems.
Like other biodiversity-rich areas in the country, Ligawasan Marsh faces a host of threats that include deforestation, land-use conversions, indiscriminate dumping of wastes, clearing of riverbanks for housing, illegal hunting of wildlife, expansion of monocrop plantations (i.e., banana and oil palm), unsustainable fishing methods, slash-and-burn activities, planned oil and natural gas explorations, and mining in upland areas.
With this situation, Ligawasan Marsh’s conservation status is Extremely High Critical (EHC) under the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priority-setting Program (PBCPP). It is also currently among the 34 priority inland water bodies for research and conservation identified by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). In this connection, there are plans to conduct public hearings or consultations on the long-standing government proposal to establish a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) in the Ligawasan Marsh area.
The Ateneo de Davao University through its Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, the lead convener of the Ligawasan Marsh Assistance Group (LMAG) was recognized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – Region XII as a main partner of the Ligawasan Marsh Management Council (LMMC) for its intervention in the Marsh.
The Al Qalam and DENR-XII already started the Public Hearings for the proposed establishment of Ligawasan Marsh as Protected Area under the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) Law under R.A. 7586 of 1992.
A lot of activities were implemented in preparation for the Ligawasan Marsh Multi-Sectoral Summit. It includes the study for Ligawasan Stakeholders Mapping 2014 which is an ongoing project of Ateneo Institute of Anthropology and Al Qalam. It will help articulate the interest and aspirations of the largely Maguindanao residents of the marsh area, and bring these into dialogue with the results of the ongoing consultative processes for the proposed Ligawasan Marsh protected area.
*Currently Al Qalam Institute is on the 9th step.