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As a resident of Bacoor, Cavite, I have the chance to reach Las Piñas in a jiffy, that is via the “tulak-tulak” in Prenza Dam which connects Brgy. New Era, Bacoor, Cavite and BF Resort Village in Las Piñas. This river, dead as it seems is actually on its way to total rehabilitation, thanks to the efforts of Villar Foundation who has painstakingly removed all sorts of garbage and water lilies and turn them into something beneficial, both for the environment and the women of Las Piñas.
“Nakakapanghinayang” according to Las Piñas Congresswoman Cynthia Villar as she saw how it was living in the old Las Piñas, before settlers have grown in number and turn the river into a giant garbage bin. According to her, the waters of the Las Piñas river were pristine and abundant with aquatic life. She remembered how salt beds dominated the landscape of her hometown and Las Piñas was known to provide first class salt.
The inconveniences brought about by development included floods, diminishing salt supply and the death of the Las Piñas river itself, raised a concern to the couple Manny and Cynthia Villar, hence the establishment of the Villar Foundation in 1992.
For 20 years now, the Villar Foundation has helped thousands of residents through various livelihood enterprises with the original aim of saving the Las Piñas river. Back in 1992, the Villar couple established the Villar Foundation to institutionalize their efforts to transform Las Pinas into a model city and their early programs included greening advocacy, school-based movement for a drug-free Las Piñas and a mobile livelihood program which provides training in employable skills to curb unemployment. The number of programs blossomed and their silent effort to make Las Piñas cleaner and greener received various awards locally and internationally.
Through persistence, diligence and full support from her family, Congresswoman Cynthia Villar embarked on her journey in saving the Las Piñas river through the Sagip Ilog program. The congresswoman has tapped engineering solutions, social mobilizations and riverbank management to come up with solutions beneficial to both the river and the residents of Las Piñas. The by-products of their original plan were various sustainable livelihood enterprises.
One of the many garbage included discarded coconut husks and shells. They traced the origins to the public markets and buko vendors pushing wooden carts, who automatically throw it to the market and sidewalks of Las Piñas, once needed meat has been extracted.
Once the problem was identified, they came into a conclusion that something has to be done. The coconut tree is called “The Tree of Life” because of its endless list of products and by-products, so they immediately know that they can come up with the solution and make use of the shells for the benefit of the environment and the people.
It was known that from these husks, a fiber can be extracted. This fiber is called “coir”. Through the efforts of Dr. Justino Arboleda, an agricultural engineer by training and dean of the Bicol State University Department of Agriculture, the “coco net” was born.
This net helps in holding down the soil while the plants planted in between eyelets grow and establish a root system to hold the soil further. They realize later on that this was a indeed a better solution and cost-efficient in preventing soil erosion.
Setting up the coco coir enterprise was not a bed of roses. They faced problems with space to place the decorticating machine and a three-phase electrical connection from Meralco for electricity to make the machine run, but they didn’t easily get discouraged. In fact, it pushed them to do more and aim more for the project to materialize.
The initial investment was used to purchase one decorticating machine, 20 twining machines, and four hand looms. These were distributed to ten families so they could start the coconut coir and peat enterprises.
To come up with coco nets, two persons have to manage the twining equipment and two persons will tend the loom. In as little as 6 hours a day, a team can produce 1 50-meter net, which, by the way, requires 1,500 husks to produce.
Currently, these coco nets are sold to Vista Land, a housing development company, for their slope protection and soil erosion control requirements.
Families who produce coco nets earn Php6,000.00 every month.
Located in the Bernabe Compound, a fishing port is the Handloom Blanket Weaving Enterprise. It is known that we are so prone to natural disasters as well as unnatural ones hence the need for more blankets. This problem gave the Villar Foundation an idea to come up with handloom blankets that instead of buying from others, they have decided to make their own.
Currently the Handloom Blanket Weaving Enterprise employs 24 workers, most of them are women. A weaver who produces at least 3 blankets per day could earn up to P4,300.
Yung kinikita ko dito nakakatulong sa panggastos sa bahay at pambaon ng mga bata — Melanie, 34
One of the major elements that chokes up the Las Piñas river is the stretch of water hyacinths or water lilies. Not only that, it also poses health dangers as it is a very common breeding ground for dengue-carrying mosquitoes.
The Sagip Ilog dredging operations were hindered by the water hyacinths as they are waterlogged and contains 90% water. It took them a LOT of effort, time and machineries lift the water hyacinths out of the river.
All these efforts paid off when the creation of water hyacinth products started. The training program included twenty women and five men, all residents of the community where the Las Piñas Arts and Crafts is situated.
Various water lilies products include baskets, bags, and some household fixtures like lamp shades and more.
People who have continuously supported the program, most of them mothers reaps the fruits of their labor and the water hyacinth basket weaving has become their daily source of income.
Our next stop and definitely one of the most exciting ones was at the EcoCenter in Barangay Pamplona Dos. The solution to the ever-growing issue of food waste has been answered! Now I wonder why other communities could not spend a little of their budgets on this noteworthy solution.
The whole process was explained to us by Brgy. Captain Roberto Villalon:
Kaning baboy or food waste are mixed with coco dust (from the coco coir enterprise), which by the way controls the moisture, and trichodema (a chemical from UPLB) and placed in a rotary composter for 7 days. The output, after a week of air-drying, then becomes organic fertilizer.
Surprisingly, the facility was immaculately clean despite its nature of tasks.
Hindi nangangamoy kaning baboy dito at wala kaming langaw. Tingnan niyo katabi pa namin ang Day Care Center — Capt. Robert
Currently each barangay in Las Piñas has one composter and shredder each.
We were also told that the bricks used in most of their facilities are actually from shredded plastics mixed with cement.
The formula to come up with 75 – 100 bricks is:
One bag of cement + 10 kilos of shredded plastics _ 10 sacks of sand
During the trip, we also met Congresswoman Cynthia Villar who gladly accepted us into their humble home. She is, as described by her chief of staff Ms. Reggie, “very hands on”.
Like the congresswoman, I personally also believe that in every difficulty lies an opportunity. All we need to do is think out of the box, lay out our plans and persevere. Challenges are there but all you need is a courage and the right knowledge to succeed.
The Villar Foundation indeed has come a very long way since 1992. Now on its 20th year, they have continuously researched to come up with sustainable projects in saving the environment and helping their community.