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A new life for Laguna de Bay

In his State of the Nation Address on July 25, 2016, President Duterte spoke out on many of his concerns – among them Laguna Lake. “Itong Laguna Lake, naubos ang mga…wla na ang fishermen. Iyon na lang – one big fish pen to the other…makita mo sa plane every time I go to Davao…And the fishermen are complaining about their loss. Talagang wala na sila; kasi ang maliit na lugar, iyon lang ang kanila.”

The President said Laguna Lake would be transformed into “a vibrant economic zone showcasing ecotourism by addressing the negative impact of watershed destruction, land conversion, and pollution…And the poor fishermen will have priority in its entitlements.”

That was about six months ago. The administration is now moving to carry out President Duterte’s plans for the Philippines largest lake, a great part of which has been taken over by private individuals and companies who have subdivided it into fish pens and fish cages. They cover 12,315 hectares, of which 10,438 have records in the Laguna Lake Development Authority. Fishermen have to find their way around the maze of 358 fish pens and 2,890 fish cages, marked by a forest of a bamboo poles sticking out of the water.

Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) took the first step when she declared a moratorium on the issuance and renewal of permits for fish pen operations in the lake starting this month of January. At the same time, President Duterte has ordered the demolition of all illegal structures in the lake.

Laguna Lake supplies 30 percent of the fish supply in Metro Manila, but Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Piñol said Pangasinan and other inland fisheries will be able to make up for the loss. The DA is now looking at potential fishing areas that can be developed with its assistance.

Thus what started as President Duterte’s reaction to the unjust treatment of small fishermen denied access to their traditional fishing grounds in the lake will now lead to the revival of Laguna de Bay which has long suffered from pollution and siltation along its shores, causing flooding in lake towns of Rizal and Laguna.

Along with the plan to build a highway around the lake, the fish pen clearing operation will help restore the lake close to its pristine condition – a clean and healthy natural resource for all, especially small fishermen, a beautiful ecotourism site for visitors, and a great place around which ordinary people can live and enjoy its peace, quiet, and natural beauty.