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By Edwin C. Mercurio
Lake Sebu-South Cotabato
March 31, 2017


Lake Sebu, Philippines- While elementary school children sang “Lemlunay”, a T’boli term for “Paradise”, it was heartbreaking to listen to teachers and residents talk about the fish  kills devastating  Lake Sebu.  

Travelling to various community centers the foul smell of rotten fish filled the air. Tribal folks tell stories of ecological imbalance and the loss of bio-diversity in the native communities.

Maria Gandam, Santa Cruz Mission Schools, Inc. President and residents of the this picturesque town explained that the fish kills (Kemehung in T’boli) started after heavy and continuous rains poured in the early part of this year. 
However, residents drew four possible causes of Kemehung. First, they contend that commercial fish cages occupy more than 20 percent of the lakes. Secondly,  in several areas of Lakes-Sebu, Lahit and S’loton water lilies have spread far and wide choking the oxygen level of the lakes’ aquatic resources. Another prevalent theory is the reports of lake residents blaming the government’s  dumping  truckloads of “Mud Balls” Into the lakes without consultation with the tribal communities and fish cage owners. The official explanation they heard came as a surprise. The “Mud Balls” which made the lakes murkier were meant to stabilize the PH level of the lakes. “But the results were devastating,” many of the residents said.

The fish kills devasted  the three major lakes with tons of bloated and rotten fish floating in fish cages.   It is here where the Santa Cruz Mission Schools, Inc. serving seven indigenous communities since 1962 is located.
Visiting the Sta. Crus Mission School in Lake Lahit with Ms. Gandam the stench of rotten fish fills the air. However, Lake Lahit escaped the massive fish kills due to the community’s campaign to prohibit commercial fish pen production and clearing much of the water lilies which chogged other lake areas.
Gandam, explained the significance of Lemlunay as an important reminder to the native students and the community that their ancestral domain is the tribes’ ‘Paradise’, once a thickly forested area where the biggest raptor, the Philippine eagle soar over the forest canopy.
As multinational corporations move upland into the hinterland areas planting pineapple, banana, asparagus and papaya for exports, big logging concessions deforest watershed areas.  The loss of lands to foreign dominated monocrop agriculture have resulted in massive soil erosion and ecological imbalance of this hinterland town, situated some two thousand feet above sea level. 
Visiting upland schools, Gandam spoke to the students about the importance of the forests, the Philippine Eagle,  flora and fauna and their interconnection with their tribe’s survival and culture.

“Bereft of trees and watershed areas, our rivers will run dry.  Without clean and healthy environment “fish kills” will occur more often,” said Ms. Gandam. The mountain springs and Lake Sebu’s seven Water Falls and watershed areas provide irrigation water for the lowland farms of Koronadal, South Cotabato.
Indeed, it is an uphill battle for the tribes of South Cotabato- T’boli, B’laan, Ubo Manobo, Kalagan, Tiruray and Maguindanons. To protect their ancestral paradise – from the influx of modern civilization, destructive foreign monocrop plantations, logging and mining, Gandam sees the need for educational campaigns in schools and the indigenous communities. 
Gandam and the SCMSI staff believe that the educational, environmental and community development components of the Santa Cruz Mission Schools Inc. are highly important.
For this school year alone,  SCMSI has produced 119  graduates of Bachelor of Science in Community Development. Among these graduates are three mothers who were allowed to continue their studies while nursing their babies inside the classroom. Due to poverty and lack of funds for childcare the young mothers bring their clothe hammocks to put their kids to sleep while their classmates take turns in babysitting the kids.
Gandam said SCMSI has only recently allowed the young mothers to continue their education while nursing their kids in school. “It is also one way to show and remind the students that getting married and raising a child while in school is a difficult and serious business.”
The Santa Cruz Mission School teachers and staff not only provide education to the students. They also teach the school children the importance of reforestation, handicrafts making, T’nalak weaving, livelihood projects, community organizing and the importance of maintaining and preserving their unique culture.
Santa Cruz Mission School, Inc. is a unique group of lay missionaries, priests, religious sisters and tribal people. They have committed themselves to help the Tribal Peoples of South Cotabato Mindanao with the basic tools necessary to face the challenges of the modern world.
Gandam said “The goal of the Santa Cruz Mission Schools Inc. is to assist tribal people through comprehensive human development and preservation of their unique culture.

The Santa Cruz Mission School, Inc. has been serving the tribal peoples of South Cotabato for over 55 years. It, however, depends on the Sponsorship Program to continue educating the tribal children. Sponsorship for one child covers the cost of tuition, food and health care.
For inquiries about sponsoring a child contact Maria L. Gandam, School President, Mobile 09066091738. Mailing Address: Santa Cruz Mission School Inc. Purok Nagkakaisa Rivera St. Brgy. General Paulino Santos. P.O. Box 7878, Koronadal City, 9506 Philippines. Email: mlgandam@yahoo.com. Or scmsilakesebu@yahoo.com. Website: scmsi@scmsi-lakesebu.org.
For Medical Missions from US and Canada to Sta. Cruz Mission School, Inc.  and South Cotabato email: edmercurio@gmail.com.

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