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First Posted on Inside Mindanao (www.insidemindanao.com) on July 31, 2010

Feature Story

Lake Mainit and the people thriving around it
By Ellen Red

Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte (July 31, 2010) — People who are unfamiliar with Lake Mainit call the rising of the lake water — the drowning of thousands of farmlands around the lake during the months of November to March — as flooding. Farmers around Lake Mainit, meanwhile, call this rising of lake water as guob — the normal rising of the lake water.

This rising of lake water coincides with the heavy rainfall in Lake Mainit and surrounding areas from November to March.

Just along the lakeshore of Lake Mainit in the village of Crossing, Kitcharao, Eusebio Narada has a half hectare rice field. Narada, a member of Lapucon Farmers Organization, said in the dialect, "The farmers here follow the lake water."

Rice fields like these are situated a few meters
from the lakeshore of Lake Mainit.
Photo by Ellen Red

He said the lake water starts to rise in the month of November. In the month of April, he said, the lake water starts to recede. With his farmland just beside the lake, Narada said he is always the last one to plant rice — normally in the month of May when the lake water is fully out of the way. And as rice has a lifespan of three months, Narada said he can only plant rice twice a year.

Like Narada, thousands of other farmers around Lake Mainit rely on this seasonal fluctuation of the water level in the lake.

Alejandro Felecio, president of Lapucon Farmers Organization, said that farmers near the lake have to program their planting season according to the guob occurrence.

Felecio added that the guob has a positive side. He said in the dialect: "The go–ob makes the farmlands fertile. The plants there (near the lake) are healthy. Because of this (fertile soil), some farmers do not anymore use fertilizer."

Keeping in mind the gu–ob and considering that waters from the farmlands are ultimately drained to the lake, Felecio said that organic farming should be advocated.

The Lake
The lake is surrounded by towering mountains. Notably, on the west side of Lake Mainit, a narrow strip of land separates the lake from the Mindanao Sea. This narrow strip of land on the west side of the lake includes mountain peaks of about 500 meters. The east side of the lake is flanked with mountain peaks of about 1,000 meters. In the northern part of the lake where the mountain peaks are not so high, a smaller lake called Lake Mahokdum can be found. The only lake outlet, the 29–kilometer Kalinawan River, lies in the southern part of the lake.

Lake Mainit, situated in the provinces of Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte, is believed to derive its name "Mainit" — which means hot in the local dialect — from the hot sulphuric mountain springs that flow to the Mainit River and drain to the lake.

Photographer Jojie Jasmin Cabasan
caught this rainbow in Lake Mainit.

With the maximum depth of 223 meters and mean depth of 128 meters, this lake is the deepest lake in the country. Lake Mainit is also the 4th largest lake in the country, with a total lake surface of 17,060 hectares.

In a scientific survey of Lake Mainit in 1973, researcher William Lewis, Jr., then working for the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory of the University of Georgia, found that the lake is quite old. "The size of the deltas and the very low gradient in the river valleys suggest that the lake is quite old," Lewis reported. This lake is, however, not as old as Lake Lanao in Marawi, Lewis noted.

In a Limnological and Water Quality Assessment of Lake Mainit conducted in 2003, researchers from Mindanao State University–Naawan found out that "biological pollution in Lake Mainit is not serious and confined only within a small part of the water body."

Researchers from Mindanao State University–Naawan also revealed that pesticides concentrations found in the lake were "low to cause adverse effects to the aquatic biota."

The Mamanwa
Under a 1997 Philippine law, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, and based on their native title, the Mamanwa are claiming Lake Mainit and the forest surrounding it as their ancestral domain.

Eleuterio Capua, Jr., a Mamanwa residing in Jabonga town, Agusan del Norte, said that since time immemorial, Lake Mainit and the surrounding mountains have been the ancestral domain of the Mamanwa. Eleuterio is the chairman of Katiguman Ka Mamanwa Manobo sa Kitcharao Jabonga (KAMAMAKIJA), an organization of two indigenous peoples, the Mamanwa and Manobo, in the towns of Kitcharao and Jabonga.

Eleuterio said in the dialect, "The lake and the forest are inseparable because the Mamanwa tribe thrives in both the forest and the lake."

"We (the Mamanwa) aspire to get a certificate of title for our ancestral domain," Eleuterio added.

Inside the Panlangagan Cave, an accessible cave located just beside the lake and in the town of Kitcharao, human bones and artifacts of the Mamanwa were found.

Rupino Capua, a Mamanwa residing on the other side of the lake, in the town of Jabonga, said in the dialect, "Panlangagan is one of our sacred places."

Rupino said: "Our elders told us that our ancestors who became sick with diseases that were difficult to cure were placed at Panlangagan. The sick were left with food, water, a pot, and other basic things.

Rupino added: "Once there would be no food left, the sick would starve to death. No healthy tribe members would visit as they were afraid to catch the disease."

According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Mamanwa are distinct from the rest of the Philippine population. The commission added that the Mamanwa appear to be an older branch of indigenous people in the country.

While, the Mamanwa are known for being very mobile and continually relocating in search of subsistence, it is worthy to note that most of them live near Lake Mainit and the surrounding mountains.

The Fisherfolks
At the lakeside in Kitcharao, this writer chanced upon Lilane Navarro preparing her fishing gear, the hook line and sinker. In the dialect, Lilane said, "This (fishing) is my livelihood. I've been fishing since I was small."

Fisherwoman rows her boat in Lake Mainit.
Photo by Ellen Red

When she was young, Lilane said she would accompany her parents out in the lake to fish for pijanga (commonly known as white goby) and other fish.

Unlike Lilane who fish during daytime in the lake, Antonio Magpatoc fish during nighttime. One night, this writer accompanied Antonio, Miguel (Antonio's brother), and Gina (Antonio's wife) in a fishing expedition. Antonio and Miguel's fishing equipment comprises of spears and underwater flashlights.

Gina said she sometimes accompanies Antonio to fish. She said she often rows the boat. The boat, she said, serves as a safe place for Antonio to deposit his fish catch and also serves as a resting place after a long dip into the lake water.

In just about two hours of spear fishing, Antonio and Miguel caught about eight kilos of fish. Majority of the fish caught were pijanga, a few tilapia and one eel, locally known as kasili.

Antonio said he has been fishing since he was 10 years old. He said in the dialect, "The lake is really important to us as our livelihood depends on it."

"In any part of the lake, so long as you know how to spear fish, you will survive," Antonio added.

Shell picker in Lake Mainit
Photo by Ellen Red

One need not even use a spear to survive in the lake. Gandi Purugoy, a Mamanwa resident in Jabonga said she just picks shells such as igè (scientific name: Viviparia angularis) for food.

In a 2008 Comprehensive Resource Assessment, Mindanao State University–Naawan Foundation for Science and Technology Development, Inc. reported, that a total of 40 species of finfish belonging to 21 families were identified in Lake Mainit and Kalinawan River — the single outlet of the lake.

MSU–Naawan researchers added: "The total fish catch of the Lake and Kalinawan River is estimated at 219.5 tons recorded from August 2007 to July 2008, based on landed fish catch data in 27 of the 32 major and minor landing areas of the six municipalities around Lake Mainit."

Researchers from MSU–Naawan said that the pijanga contributes 48.4% of the total fish caught from the lake followed by the tilapia (18.5%), luyab (11.0%) and carp (6.3%).

Net, trap and pot, hook and line, and spear are the major fishing gears in the lake. MSU–Naawan researchers found that banned fishing gears such as beach seine or baling and diving with compressor or boso were used by some fisherfolks in the lake.

Eleuterio Capua, Jr., a Mamanwa resident in Jabonga, said some migrants have built fish cages in some areas of the lake, thereby depriving the Mamanwa of their traditional fishing grounds.

The Proposed Lake Mainit Hydroelectric Power Plant
The Philippine Information Agency reported that in 1994, Guido Delgado, then president of the National Power Corporation, authorized the provincial government of Jabonga and the Agusan Power Corporation to undertake the development of the Lake Mainit hydroelectric power plant in Jabonga.

Last May, the government, through the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), initiated a forum in Jabonga about the renewed plan to tap the water of Lake Mainit for hydroelectric power.

Days after the forum, the Mamanwa in Jabonga issued a statement declaring that they have not given their consent to the proposed Lake Mainit hydroelectric power plant.

In a study dubbed "Limnological and Water Quality Assessment of Lake Mainit", researchers from Mindanao State University–Naawan said: "The plan to develop a hydroelectric generating plant that would tap Lake Mainit for its water source would certainly have a far–reaching impact on the biology and ecology of some important aquatic plant and animal species thriving in the lake."

"Moreover, the construction of a dam that would allow an excessive fluctuation of the water level in the lake would also have drastic impacts on the ecology of some lakeshore habitats and may end up seriously damaging important lake fisheries," researchers from Mindanao State University–Naawan added.


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