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‘Pakana ng gobyerno’

“Ang October plot ay isang pakana ng gobyerno para bigyang katwiran na harangin, i-delay at harasin ang lahat ng makiki-gunita sa araw ng mga magsasaka.”—Pido Gonzales, PAMALAKAYA Southern Tagalog

Hinagpis at laban ng mangingisda ng Pook Maliksi

Ni Denver Del Rosario at Mark Kevin Reginio

Musmos pa lamang ay pangingisda na ang kinamulatan ni Fredo Paguna, 64 taong gulang.  Ito ang hanapbuhay na minana niya mula sa kaniyang ama. Subalit sa katanghalian ng kanyang buhay, humina ang pangingisda sa kanyang sinilangang lalawigan ng Leyte. Napilitan siyang tawirin ang malawak na dagat upang makipagsapalaran sa Cavite.

Sa kabutihang palad, isang masaganang look ang kaniyang natagpuan sa Pook Maliksi sa bayan ng Bacoor na naging masaganang batis ng kanilang kabuhayan sa loob ng 18 taon.

Subalit kaniya ngayong pinangangambahan ang isa na namang unos na unti-unting lumalapit sa ‘di kalayuan. Ang taning ay dalawang taon bago sila paalisin sa umampong lupang nagsilbing tahanan upang bigyang daan ang reklamasyon sa dagat na kanyang ikinabubuhay.

Halos pitumpung hektarya ang sakop ng nakatakdang reklamasyon sa lalawigan kung saan sampung barangay ang tatabunan kapalit ng itatayong Cavite Business Economic Zone. Sa darating na mga taon, ang mga dating kabahayan ay mapapalitan ng mga lugar-libangan tulad ng casino at mga restawran.

Mariin ang naging pagtutol ng mga residente ng Pook Maliksi. Anila, hindi na muli sila magpapaloko sa mga planong reklamasyon, tulad na lamang nang nangyari sa Manila-Cavite Expressway o Cavitex. Naging paspasan ang mga operasyon ng mga tao sa likod ng reklamasyon. Tinambakan nila ng lupa ang mga katubigan ng halos iglap lamang at hindi na nagawang pumiglas ng mga komunidad. Ang noo’y dalampasigan kung saan nag-uumpisa ang kanilang paglalayag para makapangisda ay isa na ngayong malapad na laso ng sementong binansagang Cavitex na tila isang higanteng pader sa pagitan nila at ng dagat. Hirap na ang mga bangkang makalusot sa makipot na siwang sa ilalim ng expressway at pakonti nang pakonti ang kanilang mga nahuhuling isda.

Ito rin ang banta ngayon sa mga mangingisda ng Pook Maliksi.

Hindi pa man nagsisimula ang konstruksyon, muntikan nang mapaalis nang wala sa oras ang pamilya ni Mang Fredo dahil sa isang trahedyang hindi nila malilimutan.

Alas kuwatro ng hapon, tatlong buwan ang nakalilipas, nagkaroon ng malaking sunog tumupok sa kanilang mga bahay. Walang nagawa ang mga residente ng Pook Maliksi laban sa lagablab na hinipan pa ng hangin mula sa dagat.  Isang libong pamilya ang nawalan ng tahanan at napilitang muling magsimula mula sa wala.

 

Matapos ang malaking sunog na tumupok sa halos 600 kabahayan sa Pook Maliksi, tanging pinagtagpi-tagping plywood na lamang ang makikitang nakatayo sa pook. Isa ang bahay ni Mang Fredo, na nakatirik malapit sa tubig, sa mga katatayo lamang matapos silang makapangutang sa usurero.

Tanging pag-iyak na lamang ang nagawa ni Mang Fredo matapos maabo ang kaniyang mga lambat at ibang kagamitan. Ang tatlong daang piso sa kanyang bulsa noon ay sa pagkain lamang kumasya. Hindi rin sila agad nakabangon dahil sa pagliit ng kanilang kita dulot ng pagharang sa kanila ng Cavitex.

Muling nagtirik ng bahay ang mga taga-Pook Maliksi matapos ang sunog.  Ngunit pati ang lupang kanilang tinitindigan ay nanganganib pang mawala dahil sa banta ng reklamasyon sa lugar. Patuloy ang kanilang ginagawang paglaban, ngunit ang kinabukasan sa kanila’y walang kasiguruhan.

Ayon kay Mang Fredo, magmula noong itinayo ang Cavitex noong 2011, humina ang kanilang kita sa pangingisda. Kung dati’y hindi baba sa isanlibong piso ang kanilang kinikita kahit sa gilid lamang sila ng bahay, ngayo’y hindi tataas sa tatlong daang piso kada araw ang kanilang nakukuha kahit pa dumayo sila sa kalagitnaan ng look.

Naabong kabuhayan

Tanging pagtakbo na lamang ang nagawa ng pamilya ni Elsa Felas, 59, noong kasagsagan ng sunog. Sa sobrang bilis ng apoy, may mga ilang residenteng nagsitalunan sa look upang iligtas ang kanilang mga buhay samantalang namangka naman sina Aling Elsa patungong tambak ng Cavitex upang makaligtas sa halimaw na apoy.

Bakas sa mukha ni Aling Elsa ang pighating dinulot sa kanilang pamilya ng nasabing sunog. Nakatayo sa kaniyang likod ang tindahang binuksan nila matapos ang trahedya na siyang nagsisilbing kabuhayan nila sa tuwing walang kita ang kaniyang asawa sa pamamakyaw.

Natupok ang lahat ng kanilang lambat pati na ang mga motor ng kanilang mga bangka, dahilan upang tuluyang hindi makapamalakaya sina Aling Elsa. Upang may ipangkain araw-araw, lumuluwas patungong Parañaque ang kanyang asawa para mamakyaw ng mga isda na kaniya namang itinitinda sa mga palengke ng Laguna.

 

Ilan lamang ang mga tahananang ito sa mga tinupok ng apoy. Tinatayang nasa 1,000 ang apektadong pamilya, kabilang sina Aling Elsa at Mang Fredo.

Wala pang panahon na sila’y kumita ng malaki. Madalas na lugi, kadalasan ay tabla. At sa panahong walang maisubo sa kanilang mga bibig, umaasa na lamang sila sa maliit na tindahang kanilang itinayo matapos ang sunog.

Sa halos dalawang dekadang paninirahan sa Pook Maliksi nina Aling Elsa, ngayon lamang nakaranas nang matinding pagkalugmok ang kanilang pamilya, bukod pa sa banta ng reklamasyon sa lugar.

‘Pahirap ang reklamasyon’

“Pahirap nang pahirap ang buhay,” ang hinaing ni Noelyn Tigon, 43.

Labis ang panghihinayang ni Noelyn sa mga pagmamay-aring tinupok ng apoy kabilang ang kaniyang mga kagamitang pangisda. Dagdag pahirap pa ang sinisimulang reklamasyon na nagdudulot nang pagbaba ng kanilang huli.

Mayroon mang sariling bangka, hindi naman sapat ang huli upang tustusan ang araw-araw na pamumuhay. Mula sa lagpas isang libo kada araw, umaabot na lamang ng isang daan ang kanilang kita dahil kakaunti na lamang ang mga isdang nahuhuli. Limitado rin ang lugar na kanilang maaaring pangisdaan na naging dahilan upang mawala ang dating kasaganahan.

Hindi na alam ni Noelyn kung saan pa kukuha ng panggastos sa araw-araw. Dagdag pa ang gastos sa eskwela ng lima sa kaniyang pitong anak.

Mula noong nagsimula ang reklamasyon, lalong lumala ang kanilang buhay. Mula sa masaganang huli na nagbibigay sa kanila ng isang libong piso bawat huli, bumagsak sa tatlong kilong alimasag at pusit na lamang ang kanilang nahuhuli. Hindi ito sapat para sila ay mabuhay tulad ng dati.

Nasa halos dalawang timba na lamang ang dala-dalang huli ng isang mangingisda sa Pook Maliksi. Ito ay matapos ang sunog na lumamon sa kanilang mga kagamitan at ang ambang reklamasyon sa lugar.

Noong alukin sila ng pamahalaan ng relokasyon sa isang lugar malayo sa dagat, hindi pumayag sina Noelyn. Aniya, nasa Pook Maliksi ang kanilang hanapbuhay, ang kanilang kinagisnan. Pangingisda ang nagpa-aral at nakapagpatapos sa kanyang mga anak kaya patuloy nila itong igigiit.

‘Hindi kami aalis’

Tulad ni Noelyn, bumagsak din ang huli at kita nina Myrna Candinato, 62, matapos ang tatlong serye ng mga salot na tumama sa kanilang buhay — una ang ginawang Cavitex, pangalawa ang nangyaring sunog, at pangatlo ang pagsisimula ng bagong reklamasyon.

Isang makipot na tulay ang iniwan nang pagtatayo ng Cavitex sa mga mangingisda ng Pook Maliksi.

Habang ang mga sasakyang de gulong ay malayang nakapaglalakbay gamit ang nasabing daan, hindi naman basta-bastang makalusot ang mga bangka sa ilalim ng tulay dahil sa sikip nito na maaaring makasira ng mga bangka. Dagdag pa ang daluyong ng tubig na pilit tumutulak sa mga bangka papasok sa makitid na daanan.

Itinuturo ni Aling Myrna ang tulay ng Cavitex na nagsilbing hadlang sa kanilang pangingisda sa mga unang taon nang pagkakatayo nito. Ngunit, matapos ang ilang pakikipagdayalogo sa lokal na pamahalaan at sa tulong na rin ng kanilang mga ginawang pagkilos ay nilawakan ang dating makipot na daan.

Hindi rin nalalayo sa mga karanasan ng mga residente ng Pook Maliksi ang nangyari kina Aling Myrna matapos ang nagdaang sunog — natupok ang mga lambat, nawalan ng anim na motor ng bangka, at walang natirang kagamitan. Tuluyang bumagsak ang kanilang kabuhayan kaya hindi niya alam kung papaano muli makakapangingisda.

Mas masahol pa ring maituturing ang banta ng sinisimulang reklamasyon sa lugar, ayon kay Aling Myrna. Sa bisa ng Supreme Court mandamus na nag-uutos na “to clean and rehabilitate the Manila Bay” ay tuluyang nilansag at nilinis ang tahungan nina Aling Myrna na lubos na nakaapekto sa kanilang kabuhayan.

Mula sa dating limandaang galong mga tahong na nagkakahalagang labinlimang libong piso ay kumikita na lamang ito ngayon sa limampung galon na ang kapalit ay limandaang piso.

Hindi lalagpas sa limampung galon ang nahuhuli nina Aling Myrna sa ngayon. Kulang na kulang ito para sa kanilang pang-araw-araw lalo pa’t may pinasasahod pa siyang dalawang manggawa.

Dagdag-pahirap din sa kanilang mga mangingisda ang dating Republic Act (RA) 8550 na ngayo’y pinaigting na RA 10654 o ang Philippine Fisheries Code of 1989. Pinagbabawalan ng batas na ito ang mga mangingisda na pumalot at manghuli lagpas sa itinakdang 15 kilometrong pangisdaan mula sa baybayin. Dulot nito ang hindi mabilang na kaso ng pagkakulong at pagmumulta ng mga mangingisda na mas mahal pa ang halaga kaysa sa kanilang mga kita sa mahabang panahon.

Labis ang galit ni Aling Myrna matapos hindi payagan ang kaniyang natitirang dalawang bangka pumalaot dahil sa maling kulay nito. Ang mga ganitong polisiya kabilang ang pagkuha nila ng ID ay dagdag pa sa mga problema ng mga mangingisda sa Pook Maliksi.

Sa patuloy na panunupil ay ang pina-igting na laban na lamang ang natitira sa kanila upang makapanatili sa kanilang pamayanan. Sa kabila ng mga pasakit na ibinibigay sa kanila ng gobyerno, patuloy ang kanilang pagsusumikap na mabuhay. Anila, hindi sila mga ilegal na mangingisda dahil nagbabayad sila ng karampatang buwis. Sa ngayon, patuloy nilang pinapalakas ang laban sa lansangan.

Bagaman patuloy ang pag-aalok sa kanila ng pabahay sa ibang lugar, nananatiling malakas ang kanilang panawagang manatili sa kanilang pamayanan at ipaglaban ang kanilang karapatan sa katubigan. Anila, sila ay mga mangingisda. Ito ang bumuhay sa kanilang mga pamilya sa loob ng mahabang panahon at ito ang bubuhay sa kanila sa mga darating na panahon.

Sa gitna ng unos, patuloy nilang lalabanan ang agos hanggang sa matagumpay silang maka-ahon. #

 

 

 

 

 

‘Manila Bay is still alive,’ fisher folks opposing reclamations say

A special report by Reynald Denver del Rosario

MANILA BAY is alive and still able to provide livelihood for thousands of fisher folk and their families, communities and environmental groups say as they continue their campaign against ongoing and future government reclamation projects on one of the country’s most important body of water.

Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte has given the green light to more than 80 billion peso worth of reclamation projects implemented by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA). Despite opposition from various sectors, the government ordered a fast-tracked completion purportedly to give way to economic development and ease the metro’s traffic woes, among other reasons.

But beyond these promises of change and progress lie concrete problems faced by the environment and grassroots communities. One of the affected areas is Manila Bay, a body of water which different coastal communities rely on for their living.

With the implementation of these massive reclamation projects at full swing, affected residents face threats of losing their livelihood and communities. Since then, communities have strengthened their unity as they fight for their rights as citizens.

A Manila Bay fisher tending his boat after a day out trying to make a living. (Photo by R. Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Manila Bay to be ravaged by eight reclamation projects

The eight ongoing and planned reclamation projects on Manila Bay include the 650-hectare Navotas Business Park reclamation project, first initiated in the 1960s but was revived during the administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

Manila City Mayor Joseph Estrada has also recently approved a fourth reclamation project under his term—the 419-hectare Horizon Manila project at an estimated cost of P100-billion. It involves the construction of a commercial hub composed of three new islands. This approval came two months after Estrada approved the P7-billion Manila North Harbor expansion, which will reclaim 50 hectares from the waters of the bay.

Last February, Estrada approved the New Manila Bay International Community project, a 407-hectare mixed-use commercial and tourism center proposed by UAA Kinming Development Corporation.

Estrada also upheld the Solar City project, a major entertainment hub which covers 148 hectares and approved by his predecessor Alfredo Lim.

Another reclamation intervention is the 635-hectare Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Bay project intended to be a residential, industrial, educational and commercial zone.

The other reclamation projects in Manila Bay include the 360-hectare project in Pasay City and the 300-hectare project in Parañaque City, a public-private partnership with a giant mall and real estate company as the private-sector partner.

These massive reclamation projects in Manila Bay are part of a larger national reclamation plan pursued by the government purportedly to further boost the country’s economy. These, however, shall come at the expense of fisherfolk and coastal communities being displaced, fisher folk and environmental groups said.

  1. Despite massive pollution, Manila Bay is still thriving.

The Manila Bay area is one of the Philippines’ major center of economic activity, including fishing and aquaculture activities. However, its ecosystem continues to face problems from multiple developments taking place in the area.

Pollution, over-fishing, and loss of habitats are few of the issues threatening Manila Bay, according to the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA). Its effects include the significant degradation of the involved ecosystems and biodiversity, which eventually affects those who are dependent on it.

According to the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), fish are already scarce in the bay according to a public scoping undertaken by no less than the Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR).

Fisher folk challenges the claim, however, saying the DENR study is being used to justify the planned demolition of their communities and livelihood by and on the bay.

According to Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas), fishermen still harvest a considerable amount of fish from Manila Bay. For them, the government should rehabilitate the waters, not reclaim them.

Navotas City, for example, benefits from what the waters of Manila Bay still have to offer. Dubbed as the “Fishing Capital of the Philippines” Navotas City and its residents largely depend on fishing and related industries for livelihood. Residents of Barangay Tangos in Navotas still benefit from the waters to sustain their livelihood, despite various obstacles. Fishermen harvest different kinds of seafood, including shellfish, squid and shrimp, among others.

An urban poor community sits under the shadow of the towering buildings of Makati City and along the polluted Parañaque River. (Photo by Raymund B. Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Waste is used as justification to displace the coastal communities.

Forty eight year old fisherman Romeo Broqueza of Barangay Tangos couldn’t hide his frustration with Manila Bay’s waste problem, saying that the issue is used against them. According to him, most of the waste came from other places and not from their community itself.

“Kung tutuusin, pwede iyang pag-usapan, kasi madali lang naman linisin iyan e. Nandiyan ang barangay, tutulong yan,” he said. “Ngayon, ginagamit nilang dahilan ‘yang kalat para paalisin kami dito.”

Residents also scored the dumping of waste in nearby communities. According to Nieves Sarcos of PAMALAKAYA, big barges continue to deliver 100 truckloads of trash to Barangay Tanza per day.

“Mataas na ang basura, parang bundok na,” she said. “Maraming nahuhulog na basura mula sa barge, tapos aanurin papunta sa amin.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a writ of continuing mandamus directing 13 government agencies to clean up, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay in 10 years.

PAMALAKAYA claims that almost 60 percent of pollution entering Manila Bay comes from Pasig River, in which 80 percent comes from industries and commercial establishments in Metro Manila.

Manila Bay Coordinating Office executive director Antonio Gaerlan stated that wastewater from 86 percent of the 14 million households served by water concessionaires is still directly flushed out into Manila Bay. The mandatory construction of wastewater treatment facilities for all households, establishments and industries was not included in the privatization of water services under the Fidel Ramos administration with Manila Water and Maynilad Water Services.

PAMALAKAYA has condemned past and present administrations that use the SC’s order as justification to demolish fishing communities.

The fisher folk group continues to push for the rehabilitation and clean-up of Manila Bay. With its continued destruction, small-scale fishermen have experienced the trend of fish-catch depletion, from 10 to 15 kilos down to two to five kilos of average catch per day.

A fisher folk is heading out to Manila Bay from the Malabon River. (Photo by Raymund Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Government policies threaten the livelihood of fishing communities.

According to PAMALAKAYA and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), the Navotas Business Park reclamation project would displace 20,000 fisher folk and residents across four coastal barangays in Navotas City.

The group added that fresh and affordable fish from Navotas would also become unavailable due to the displaced communities.

Markers and fences are already constructed along the shores of Barangay Tangos in preparation for the project. The fisher folk fear that the barriers would block their fishing boats from going offshore and restrict their already limited fishing activities.

According to Republic Act 10654 or “An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing,” small and medium fishing vessels are only allowed to operate within 10 to 15 kilometers from the coastline in municipal waters.

Fishermen are directly affected with this policy. According to them, fish of high value like tilapia and bangus cannot be found in the shallow areas; they are forced to prioritize crabs, squid, shrimp, and other small fish, which do not sell as much.

According to Broqueza, only big ships benefit from the Manila Bay since small-scale fishermen can’t go too far out to sea.

“Dati communal ‘yang Manila Bay. Malalaking isda talaga tulad ng tuna at bangus ang nahuhuli diyan, kahit ng mga maliliit na mangingisda. Kaso, ngayon, wala na,” he added.

Fish continue to dwindle because of large-scale fishing by big companies, fisherfolk say. “Pag maliliit na fishers, ‘yung sapat lang at di sobra-sobra. Yung mga negosyo kasi, sobrang mangisda,” Broqueza said.

Due to the declining fish catch, small-scale fishermen choose not to bring their fish to the Navotas Fish Port for offloading.  Instead, they do business in their barangay despite earning substantially less. According to Dodong Remojo, a fisherman of 30 years, around 70 to 80 percent of the fish in the port come from Palawan anyway.

Fishermen also suffer from various violations imposed on them. There are no markers which indicate the 15-kilometer distance from the shoreline—they only estimate how far they have sailed. The ambiguity makes them vulnerable to violating the limitations stated by the law.

Patrol activities by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), fisher folk say, have become a venue for corruption through the filing of various violations against small scale fisher folk.. “Hindi ka pa nga nakakalagpas, nahuli ka na e,” a resident said. Fishermen are charged from P100,000 to as high as P1.5-million, depending on the violation, including illegal equipment, lack of permit and exceeding 15 kilometers, among others.

Forty-four year-old fisherman Danilo Tulda said the officials are on patrol day and night to get the chance to yield profit from accused violations. “Araw-araw ‘yan sila, nag-aabang talaga sa laot. Kapag tumakbo ka, papuputukan ka,” Tulda said.

Rafael Sales, a fisherman for 33 years, said they were forced to pay a fine of P1.5-million after supposedly violating the law while fishing in Bataan. They were lucky as the officials eventually agreed to lower the fine to P150,000. “Kahit wala kang violation, lalagyan ka. Kaya bang bayaran ng mga mangingisda ‘yon?” Sales said.

Children of fishing families practice their skills on makeshift rafts on the Malabon River. (Photo by Raymund Villanueva / Kodao)

  1. Damage has been done by the reclamation projects, and will continue to do so.

CEC’s Lia Alonzo cites previous reclamation projects as contributory to more hazards on the bay, such as the one which gave way to a giant mall by the bay and even earlier ones such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex undertaken under the Ferdinand Marcos regime.

Geologists said further reclamation projects pose greater danger as the area stands on top of a fault line. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) already said that Metro Manila is overdue for a strong magnitude 7.2 earthquake from the West Valley Vault that traverses Metro Manila from north to south.

Alonzo cites the flaws of DENR’s issuance of the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) under the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as one of the factors.

The ECC is an issued document after a positive review that a project meets environmental laws and policies and certifying that the proposed project will not cause significant negative environmental impact. In practice, however, issuance of the said document favors the reclamation projects and its proponents.

According to CEC, the government failed to evaluate larger domino effects of the reclamation projects to different communities. “Nakikita natin na may mga lugar na maaapektuhan ng projects pero di na sakop ng EIS,” Alonzo said.

PRA said that engineering solutions will be applied to prevent potential damage.

CEC, however, stated that such processes are both expensive and are not foolproof. CEC maintains their stance of rehabilitating the Manila Bay under the mandamus issued by the SC. Reclamation, they say, will further destroy the already damaged ecosystems and shall affect many fisher folks.

“It is not enough reason to say na wala naman nang buhay diyan, kaya hayaan na lang nating i-reclaim,” Alonzo said. “Para sa mga mangingisda, di pa huli ang lahat para ma-rehabilitate ang Manila Bay.” #

 

Laguna de Bay’s fishers and defenders

A multimedia report by Eunice Lei Wu and Gabriel Endona

Ronnie Molero and Marlon Valenzuela prepare their boat for the day’s fishing.

THEIR day starts early, from the small hours of the morning to daybreak. The boats they use are slim and long, shorn on its sides by constant use and time. But the boats are sturdy and more than capable of carrying at least seven people. They can travel from one end of the lake to the other. If these had enough gas, that is.

To get the boats out to the baklad (fish pens), it takes around ten minutes of wrestling through the lush fields of water lilies kept at bay by walls of green netting and bamboo poles. One of the reasons the fishermen needed to put up net barriers was to ward off the wild growth. It was a preventative measure. If they don’t build barriers before the lilies grow, they can’t fish.

Ang kasabihan kasi ‘pag sumobra nakakasama,” Mang Larry Protasio, 60, said. He is the President of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council (FARMC). His jurisdiction covers the entirety of Laguna Lake. “Kagaya niyan. Lalabas ka ng alas tres ng madaling araw, bago ka makalabas alas singko na. Sasalok ka pa. Pagsalok mo, babalik ka na naman. Bago ka makapasok, alas siete na. Bilasa na isda mo,” he said.

Mang Emil Rongabilla, 59, perched himself nimbly on the baklad’s bamboo poles—no easy feat given the size of the net he carried. He would dip the net attached to yet another bamboo pole about twice his body size into the water and haul out a fish load. The catch can range from just one piece to what seemed like five kilos worth of them. The tiny silver bodies would flail about powerfully in the net, splashing water around the baklad. Yet Mang Emil keeps his balance.

There’s an art to the way Mang Emil released the fish: a practiced flick of the wrist that sent the net arcing gracefully through the air and its catch cleanly onto his boat. These are mostly kanduli and a smattering of tilapia.

After scooping the fishes from the baklad, Emil then drops them into his boat.

 “Hindi na mabenta ang kanduli,” Mang Ronnie Molero, 59, spokesperson of the Save Laguna Lake Movement said. Still, they manage.

This is the life for the average fisherfolk in Barangay Sucat, Muntinlupa. They, like many other fisherfolk in Laguna Lake, have relied primarily on systems of net barriers and baklad to sustain themselves and their families for generations. “Iyong lolo pa ng lolo ko nagdadagat na, hanggang sa ako na ang nagmana,” Mang Larry said.

Duterte’s zero fish pen policy

Just last year, a threat to this way of life emerged in the form of President Rodrigo Duterte’s zero fish pen policy purportedly aimed to rehabilitate the lake. Small fisher folk were quickly alarmed, saying that an absolute zero fish pen policy would effectively spell their doom. “Kung aalisin mo ang mga fish pond—lahat ha, zero—maraming magugutom,” Mang Larry said.

FARMC has around 22,000 members, the registered fishers of the lake. Almost every one of them has a family to support. The lake is a vital fish supplier for the whole of Metro Manila. “Ang ipinaglalaban ng mga mangingisda ay wag i-zero,” Mang Larry said.

Marlon hands Emil Rongabilla a net attached to a bamboo pole, the primary tool they use to fish.

The Fisheries Code dictates that only 10 percent of an inland body of water is allotted to fishing activities. In Laguna de Bay’s case, it should only be 9,000 hectares of its 90,000-hectare. Currently, about 18,000-20,000 hectares are occupied by baklads, approximately 70 percent of which is occupied by commercial fish pens.

Mang Larry and Mang Ronnie both agree that reducing the occupied areas to the law-mandated 10 percent would in fact benefit small fisherfolk. “Luluwag ang pangisdaan namin. At luluwag din yung mga pwedeng puwesto ng isda na palalakihan,” Mang Larry said.

Former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez supported the small fisher folk’s demand to leave their baklad alone and only commercial fish pens should be abolished. Lopez however was denied confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. It was a hard blow to the small fisher folk of Laguna Lake.

But Lopez’ non-confirmation gave them some relief. Lopez wanted to transform the lake into an ecotourism zone which would bring more big businessmen who could eventually elbow the fisher folk out of the lake. The lake’s seven islands, each covering 100-hectare areas, are to be transformed as tourist attractions in the Taguig and Muntinlupa areas of the lake. These would then be sold off to the highest bidders. The lake’s intended ecotourist transformation is meant to evoke for the south what the reclaimed areas in Pasay by Manila Bay have become.

Road of perdition

Ronnie points to a kanduli, which made up most of the catch for the day.

The construction of the controversial Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike (LLED) presents yet another threat to the lives of those who reside along the lake. The proposed LLED would cut through the lake from Taguig to Calamba and Los Baños in Laguna province. One of the reasons for the LLED is to make travel easier from the metro to the south and ease traffic congestion. Last July 7, the Department of Public Works and Highways opened a recently completed 3.2 kilometer portion of the LLED in Taguig as part of its first phase of construction.

Kasi ang katwiran nila, nahihirapan daw pumunta ang mga turista sa Pagsanjan Falls dahil traffic na rito,” Virgilio Biñalon, 52, FARMC Sucat president, said. “Puro pambobola ginagawa nila,” he added.

The fisher folk of Laguna Lake cry foul at these developments, saying the private and commercial nature of the projects would eliminate all room for the fisher folk to make a living. “’Di naman pwede ang ecotourism na ang makikinabang lamang ay iilang tao,” Mang Larry said.

The projects would also entail massive reclamation of land and water area. The fisher folk fear backers of Laguna Lake’s conversion into an ecotourism zone as well as the building of the LLED are unaware or deliberately ignoring the fact that certain areas of the projects are situated above the West Valley Fault (WVF). Barangay Sucat itself is reclaimed and a precarious one, according to Mang Virgilio. He said it takes the LLED constructors about 80 feet for a lamppost to be submerged and stabilized. With the LLED seen as a possible initiator of flooding, it would take very little to weaken the soil.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s Muntinlupa Chapter member Anabel San Juan for her part said the Laguna Lake Development Authority has been pacifying the fisher folk and the residents near Laguna Lake about the LLED project while operations still carried on. San Juan recalls the devastation of the 1990 earthquake in Dagupan City. The 7.8 magnitude quake caused parts of the city to sink by about one meter due to soil liquefaction. “’Di ba lumubog ang lupa? Pagkatapos ng lindol umaangat na yung tubig,” she added.

The problem with land reclamation is that reclaimed areas are more prone to soil liquefaction especially in the event of an earthquake, the residents said. They are more alarmed that Laguna de Bay reclamation efforts are on top of a major fault line experts warned is ripe for a major earthquake.

“Kasi tinambakan mo ang tubig. Kukunin din ng tubig yan,” Mang Virgilio said.

Protecting the lake

Their livelihood is not the residents’ sole reason for protecting the lake. For them, it has been the anchor of their lives. It is by the lakeside that they are born and raised. They’ve walked its shores and kissed its waters with the curved edges of their boats.

In Barangay Sucat, the area by the lake is also fertile ground for small-scale farming with yields like kangkong that many families rely on. Many fisher folk have already opt to seek alternative work for when fishing alone cannot sustain a living. In spite of this, the lake still remains a place for them to come back to.

”’Yan ang kaibahan ng dagat. Takbo sila diyan, diyan naghahanap-buhay. Pagka mahina sa dagat, tatakbo na naman sila, magko-construction,” Mang Larry said.

Mang Virgilio, for his part laments at what the future holds for the lake. “Ang problema yung maiiwan natin dito,” he said. “Pag naglakihan ang mga bata anong gagawin natin?” he wondered.

Laguna de Bay’s fisher folks vow to keep their way of life. They say they hope succeeding generations would still have the lake as the center of their lives as both beneficiaries of its blessings as well as its protector. #

A little boy watches Ronnie and Marlon dock the boat on the lakeside after a day’s work.

 

LARAWAN: Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Taga-lunsod 2015

Plaza Miranda, Manila
March 30, 2015

Marking the first day of the Holly week, Anakpawis together with urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) today staged their own progressive version of the passion of the Christ. It cited six major issues of the people in which President Noynoy Aquino failed to address — landlessness, low wage, demolition of urban poor, massive conversion of local fishing grounds, the continuing neglect of Yolanda survivors, unabated skyrocketing of prices and basic utilities.

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LARAWAN: Tulay Kinse

Abangan natin ang kwento sa Kalye Kinse ni Tatang Henario na kilala sa tawag na “Bucay”, isang mangingisda sa Navotas City at apat na dekadang sinagwan ang pakikipagsapalaran sa laot ng kahirapan.

Ang mga larawan ay kuha noong February 22, 2015.

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