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DENR: Massive dismantling of Laguna Lake fish pens in 2017

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Friday, September 30, said it cannot conduct a massive dismantling of fish pens in Laguna Lake until after December 31, when most of the permits to operate are expected to expire.

"[They're] going slow with dismantling, [they] want to avoid lawsuits if they violate the terms of the permit, but you're assured that after December 31 of this year, [they're] going massive in dismantling fish pens," Davao Oriental 1st District Representative Corazon Nuñez-Malanyaon told Buhay Representative Lito Atienza.

Malanyaon sponsored the DENR's proposed budget during plenary deliberations on the 2017 budget in the House of Representatives. 

During the interpellation, Atienza asked the department about the state of two bodies of water: Laguna Lake and Manila Bay.

He described the fish pens in Laguna Lake as "scandalous in their sizes." (READ: Gov't to restore Laguna Lake to 'original, pristine condition')

"It's sad to see Laguna Lake filled with fish pens. The lake is already embroidered with fish pens, which is why fishermen no longer have a means of livelihood. They are the poorest sector today in the vicinity of Laguna de Bay. Before, they had full control of the waters of Laguna de Bay, [but] today they are driven away by security guards of fish pen companies," Atienza said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

He then asked the department about any action taken since President Rodrigo Duterte promised during his State of the Nation Address to transform Laguna Lake into an ecotourism zone where "poor fishermen will have priority in its entitlement."

"There are scientists who are now making studies just to be able to know how many fish pens will be allowed, [and] if there's any need to grant permits to operate fish pens," said Malanyaon, vice chairperson of the House committee on appropriations.

The study, Malanyaon explained, will determine whether the DENR will remove all fish pens or gradually dismantle them because "we can't sacrifice [the] supply of fish for Metro Manila."

She added that the department wants to strengthen small fisherfolk, allowing them to supply fish for Metro Manila.

But Atienza doubts the DENR can "deliver anything by December because they're not doing anything today."

"The campaign should've started the moment the President promised that. We haven't seen a continuing operation of clearing...(in) Laguna de Bay. I will get back at the end of the year to prove fish pens [are] still there," he said.

'Use government forces' if needed

Atienza suggested a way to "liberate" Laguna Lake so Filipinos can make use of the body of water "for ourselves and not for the exclusive use of businessmen."

"We would suggest [to] clear [the] waters even if you have to use military, navy, all forces of government at the fingertips of the President to order everyone to clear [the] waters of structures," he added.

Atienza then asked why the DENR's proposed P28.67-billion ($592.36 million)* budget for 2017 has no allocation for the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).

Malanyaon answered that the LLDA is a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC) that generates revenues to fund its own operations.

But Atienza lamented that since the LLDA has no budget, it has to get its financial needs "from the collection of fees of those who violate the law in and around the lake."

"In other words, 'yung police umaasa 'dun sa binabayad ng violator. Technically, to be able to generate enough funds including bonuses, mas maganda maraming violation. 'Pag maraming violation, malaki kita. [Itong] kababalaghan ng sistema, 'di po ata puwedeng ganyan," he added.

(In other words, the police relies on the payment of the violator. Technically, to be able to generate enough funds including bonuses, the more violations, the better. More violations mean bigger profit. This mystery of this system shouldn't be like that.)

Malanyaon disagreed, and pointed out that while DENR is a supervisory body that sets policy directions for LLDA, it respects the autonomy of the GOCC.

Atienza then urged the environment department to hurry the transition of LLDA's leadership.

"As long as [the] old manager remains in office, every day that passes, baka magkaroon ng rummage sale doon or damaged fish pens sale (there could be a rummage sale there, or damaged fish pens sale)," he added.

Malanyaon said LLDA General Manager Nereus Acosta has already tendered his resignation and the new general manager will take over soon. –

*US$1 = P48.40

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.