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At the height of cyclone Ondoy in September 2009, Laguna de Bay—the country’s largest lake just touching Metro Manila’s environs—hogged the front pages after it swelled and inundated a huge portion of surrounding towns, and left hundreds of families without homes and farms under water.
At that time, pressing environmental and safety issues involving Laguna Lake suddenly resurfaced, including the problems of informal settlers and illegal logging—both being blamed for the lake's destructive overflow.
Only six months have passed since the Ondoy tragedy, yet concern about Laguna Lake by government and private sectors alike seems to be already on the wane, according to the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).
The LLDA, a quasi-government agency tasked to ensure sustainable development of the lake, said the public has not yet seen the full extent of the environmental threats that continue to hound the Laguna Lake.
So if the LLDA cannot bring these issues to the people, it reasoned, it will bring the people to the "issues" quite literally, through a two-day 200-kilometer marathon relay race around the Laguna Lake, so that the participants can personally see both its beauty and the creeping ugliness besetting it.
Throughout the marathon course, runners will pass not only through the scenic hilltops and lush forests of Laguna and Rizal, but also through the sorry-looking denuded foothills in these provinces.
"Gusto namin ma-cover ang buong lake para makita ng tao ang condition ng lake (We want to cover the whole perimeter of the lake so runners can see its condition)," said LLDA general manager Edgardo Manda.
To be held from May 1 to 2, the event is touted as the "most historic and biggest" marathon event in the Philippines and is expected to draw health buffs from all walks of life - from celebrities to even foreign participants.
For the first day of the relay marathon, each team—which consists of five runners and two backups—will have to run almost 90 kilometers south-bound from Tiendesitas at Frontera Verde in Pasig City all the way to Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
On the second day, the teams, starting from where they left off in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, will run back to Metro Manila but this time passing through the other side of the Laguna Lake, through Rizal and back to Pasig City—thus completing the remaining 110 kilometers of the marathon.
A Biking Marathon pre-event, covering the same route, is also scheduled from April 24 to 25, or a week before the actual Ultra Marathon, of which GMA Network is the official media partner.
"We immediately welcomed the idea of forging this long-term partnership to protect the environment," said Felipe Yalong, GMA senior vice president for Corporate Services Group, during a press conference at the GMA Network Center.
Manda described the current state of the 91,136-hectare lake as "not so good," saying siltation from denuded forests in provinces east of the Laguna Lake continue to pollute the body of water.
Having more destructive effect than siltation, however, are residential and industrial wastes that get washed up into Laguna Lake. These are the biggest polluters of the lake, especially its western potion, accounting for around 70 percent of the total garbage makeup.
The LLDA blames informal settlers, many of whom are bold enough to erect permanent structures directly along the 285-kilometer shoreline of the lake, as the main source of garbage polluting its waters and clogging its waterways.
The government has already dismantled numerous residential houses occupied by more than a thousand shore-dwelling informal settlers. Manda admits, however, that the number comprises only a small percentage—about five percent—of the estimated total population of illegal settlers on the lakeshores.
Manda stressed how tapping the resources from Laguna Lake could help alleviate the country's water lack due to El Niño, saying the Maynilad water utility firm has already started to produce potable drinking water from the lake since early March.
The LLDA and the Maynilad aim to eventually produce around 50 million liters of drinking water sourced daily from the lake—which will then become one of the biggest sources of water for Mega Manila.
Manda feared that the government might not be able to convert potable drinking water in five to 10 years if reforestation and rehabilitation efforts are not sustained.
"Ultimately, the communities [surrounding the Laguna Lake] will have to form their own opinions and lalabas at lalabas ang pressure [on the local governments to intensify lake protection measures]," he said.
Manda acknowledged that a lot of work still has to be done. That is why the LLDA is hoping the Ultra Marathon could help raise the awareness not only of direct participants but also of the public in general, towards a more conscious effort to ease and ultimately solve the environmental problems that beset the lake.
Proceeds from the marathon—expected to reach between P2 million and P3 million—will be used to fund bamboo reforestation and river rehabilitation projects in areas around the lake that are the worst-affected by environmental damage.
As for individual participating runners, they stand a chance to win cash prizes that range from P10,000 to the grand prize of P350,000.
** A token entry fee of P2,500 per team shall be collected after the completion and submission of technical requirements and documentation. For more details about the race, visit the LLDA Website