La Union river is cleanest in the Philippines

By Joanne Namnama P. Dilim

(Top left) Atty. Crizaldy Barcelo, DENR in the Ilocos Regional Executive Director, presides over a meeting attended by the executive management of their office. (Top right)La Union Governor Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III undercores the importance of rivers and lauds the DENR for conducting a search in protecting the rivers in the country. (Below left) Mayor Nieri Flores assures the continued hard work of the Naguilianons in upkeeping the Naguilian River.   (PIA-La Union file photo)

A whooping score of 93 percent!

That is the highest rating the Naguilian River in La Union province received from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) making it the first place in the Search for the Best R.I.V.E.Rs (Recognizing Individuals/Institutions towards Vibrant and Enhanced Rivers) for Life Award.

The award, which was launched in 2018, aims to raise public awareness on the need to protect and conserve the country’s rivers as the lifeblood of the earth.

The concerted efforts of the DENR, Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) – La Union, Provincial Government of La Union, and the Local Government of Naguilian made it possible for the Naguilian River System to win over 15 other regions nationwide.

DENR in the Ilocos Regional Executive Director Atty. Crizaldy Barcelo expressed his gratitude to everyone who worked for the achievement of the award which he considers as another feat attributed to the team and collaborative efforts of the regional office and its field offices. 

“This is another manifestation of an unselfish leadership giving the full trust and confidence to the people you lead and guiding them to maximize their potential in attaining this achievement,” he said.

R.I.V.E.Rs for Life Award

In the Philippines, there are 412 river basins in 119 proclaimed watersheds.

Of these, 19 are considered major river basins.

Due to threats from agricultural, domestic, industrial, negligence and mistreatment of the people to the rivers, only a few are considered healthy and sustainable.

Inspired by the success of the Boracay clean-up and commitment to save the Manila Bay, the DENR  embarked on another challenge to protect the rivers in the country through the R.I.V.E.Rs for Life Award.

“Rivers are essential for humans and nature to survive, so it is our duty to ensure that these bodies of water are not exploited to secure livelihood and the wide-range of benefits that people derive from them,” Director Barcelo said.

In order to qualify for the search, a river should meet the following criteria: Aesthetics and Water Quality Improvement – 35 percent;  Solid Waste Management – 25 percent; Partnership/Community Mobilization – 25 percent; and Information and Education Campaign – 15 percent.

Winning points of Naguilian River System

After careful deliberation and assessment, the Naguilian River System bested other 15 entries all over the country for the 2019 R.I.V.E.Rs for Life Award.

But what made it win?

The river covers a total area of 28, 890 hectares and a total length of 65.9 kilometers.

The bed of the river system has an average width of 118.7 meters, the widest at 225.20 meters.

Based on the 2015 census of the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Naguilian River is the major river that sustains the livelihood and necessities of the Naguilianons.

Fishing communities nearby rely mostly on the river while it supplies most of agricultural lands in the municipality including the sugarcane plantations which is a raw material for the One Town, One Product (OTOP) of Naguilian — the basi wine.

Dominador Pulmano, pioneer in basi making in Naguilian, shared how helpful the cleanliness of the river is to their community.

“Itong Naguilian River ay malaking tulong para sa livelihood ng mga mangingisda. Ito rin ay isa pang pinagmumulan ng irigasyon na siyang ginagamit sa ating pananim gaya ng palay, mais, at lalung-lalo na ang OTOP namin na sugarcane,” he said.

For her part, Naguilian Mayor Nieri Flores thanked all those that helped them win in the coveted search amid the COVID-19.

“Words are not enough how thankful I am to the various stakeholders who have contributed to this milestone especially to the DENR Office 1,” Flores said.

She also shared that despite the threats of the pandemic, the residents poured their collective efforts in order to maintain the cleanliness of the Naguilian River as a series of clean-up drives and inspections were conducted.

Meanwhile, La Union Governor Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III imparted that the provincial government gives utmost importance to raising environmental awareness and strengthening efforts for environmental conservation, protection, rehabilitation, and management.

He likewise recognized the role of rivers in the convergence of natural systems which is a reminder of how important synergy is.

“Just as how the La Union River System converges to keep the water flowing, and to keep life going, we commit to synergize continuously with the DENR to ensure a holistic approach in protecting and managing what we have,” Ortega said.

Top 3 National Winners

While the top spot went to Naguilian River in La Union in Ilocos Region, the second prize was given to Bued River in Benguet province, Cordillera Administrative Region, and the third place went to Naga River in Camarines Sur, Bicol Region.

Aside from the recognition, cash prizes of Php100,000.00, Php75,000.00, and Php50,000.00 will be given to the top three winners, accordingly.

Legacy of Naguilian town

Naguilian holds a remarkable environmental legacy.

Mayor Flores shared that their town is a Hall of Famer in the Search for the Cleanest, Greenest and Safest Municipality in Region 1 and a two-time national finalist to the R.I.V.E.Rs for Life Award.

“The municipal government shall endeavor to relentlessly work hard for the protection and preservation of our very own Naguilian River for this generation and the future generations of Naguilianons,” she ended. (JCR/AMB/JPD/PIA La Union)