FU, environmental advocates address floating lantern issue

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A formal dialogue between Foundation University (FU) festival organizers and concerned environmental advocates was held on Tuesday after an event sparked online controversy on its environmental impacts.

Last July 6, FU celebrated it’s founding anniversary through the “Dal-Uy Festival,” an annual tradition of the university where floating lanterns inscribed with dreams and aspirations are symbolically floated on the waters of the Dumaguete Boulevard following a Japanese tradition.

Micah Sinco, a computer engineering graduate and environmental advocate, wrote a letter to the organizers of the said event expressing concerns over the “many environmental risks that [releasing the floating lanterns out into the open sea] imposes.”

The meeting, attended by Sinco and fellow advocate Rhyn Esolana, was convened by the core organizers of the festival which included Media Relations Officer and Content Manager Klein Emperado, Marketing Head Cyril Mapula, Secretary of Student Life Charissa Villanueva, and Alumni Relations Officer Febby Marton Rule.

Rule said the university was open to dialogue such as this to directly and further clarify issues and concerns brought to them.

The lantern material and recovery mechanism

The lanterns released in the said event are made of a wooden plank base and recyclable plastic folders where participants write their hopes and dreams using water-based markers. In the middle of the lantern is the candle to light it up.

According to Girlie Bernardez, FU consultant for University Advancement, the wooden planks are used every year and the plastic folders are sold to recycling plants after the event, where profit from the sale is used to sustain the school supplies and food of the university’s work scholars.

As this is a yearly tradition, FU had already in place a recovery mechanism where 50 men in motorized fishing boats guard the perimeter area where water buoys and nets are in place.

Before the candles die down, the team of 50 retrieve the lanterns in the area and another team of 20 do the aftercare at the boulevard, ensuring that no debris is left after the event. FU has been practicing this for 40 years now.

Potential marine debris

In a letter addressed to organizers, Sinco expressed concern over the “huge possibility wherein the lanterns could have escaped the net” and caused for a possible “disruption of the eco-system.”

“Plastic trash will be in the environment for a long time and can be distributed by far and deep from where it was released,” AA Yaptinchay, Director of the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, said in an interview with AYEJ.

Yaptinchay enumerated some effects of plastic debris to marine life and the sea which include ingestion of marco-plastics by wildlife causing blockage of the gut and lungs leading to death and entanglement of wildlife in trash and macro-plastics, including discarded nets.

He also mentioned that a pile of trash in the water column can displace wildlife while those that sink to the bottom will “smother the substrate which will kill all organisms under it including corals or a whole reef.”

“Due to the change of tides and strong waves, some of the lanterns this year have gone beyond our nets. This is the first time this has happened for “Dal-uy” because of the weather,” Emperado said.

Two days after the event, Nikki Blanca Rocaberte shared on her Facebook profile the account of finding materials from the lantern while in Dauin.

“Yesterday, while we were at a beach in Dauin, we found this piece of plastic folder with texts written on it. Just by looking at it, you’d automatically figure out nga apil jud ni sa “Dal-uy Festival” (that this is really from the Dal-uy Festival),” she said in the incident report she emailed to the organizers attaching the photo she took of the lantern debris.

Ian Santillan and his group of friends also reported to finding three pieces of the plastic folder washed ashore in one of the beach fronts in Bacong.

During the meeting, Emperado said they would take on measures to prevent this from happening again, which included making the nets and barriers higher in any case of an unprecedented weather disturbance.

A tradition of hope

The “Dal-uy Festival” or Festival of Hope is an annual tradition of Foundation University that has been going on for 40 years now, celebrated in line with their founding anniversary.

The festival is a ritual adopted from the Japanese tradition “where lanterns bearing the hopes and dreams of each participant are floated into the water…to usher in blessings for the academic year.”

Ever since, the event has flourished into a tourist attraction for Dumaguetenos.

Other than the university community, this year’s “Dal-uy Festival” was also attended by former DENR secretary Neric O. Acosta, former NORSU President Dr. Henry Sojor, and the Director of the Department of Science and Technology Atty. Gilbert Arbon, among others.

Working towards the same cause

In a statement on the matter, Foundation University President Dr. Vicente “Dean” Sinco said: “We have been doing this event to allow spirituality to come through and also being sensitive to the environment. This has ties to the Obon Festival by the Japanese in late summer to honor ancestors. We just wanted to honor wishes and dreams.”

Foundation University is a model university in environmental sustainability having been awarded by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) for four consecutive years as the Most Eco-friendly and Sustainable Campus in the Philippines.

In line with the university’s mission and advocacy of “education for the preservation of man and his environment,” Emperado said that this is why they have made it a point to be open about these concerns regarding the events they organize and arrive at an understanding through proper dialogue.

“I’m just glad that we were able to have our concerns addressed because at the end of the day, we’re all really working towards the same advocacy which is environmental protection and conservation,” Micah Sinco commented.

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