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We need to clean up the nation’s water bodies

LAGUNA Lake was singled out by President Duterte as one problem needing immediate attention in his first State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) in July, 2016. Each time he flew to Davao, City, he said then, he looked down and saw the lake filled with fish pens, and he thought of the poor fishermen who depended on the lake for their livelihood. He then called for the clearing of the lake along with action to stop watershed destruction and lake pollution.

That was over a year ago. What has been done since then by the new administration through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA)? Buhay partylist Rep. Lito Atienza asked this question at a meeting of the House Committee on Appropriations on the DENR’s budget for 2018.

Some 2,000 hectares of bamboo poles sticking out of the lake surface may have indeed been cleared from Laguna Lake, as claimed by the LLDA, but there are still some 10,000 hectares of the lake still cluttered with them. Fishermen still have a difficult time finding their way between and around the hundreds of fish pens and thousands of fish cages.

The water from Laguna Lake flows into the Pasig River, on to Manila Bay. And this is another continuing problem, said Atienza, a former Manila mayor as well as a former secretary of the DENR. In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a decision ordering 13 government agencies to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay, with the DENR as the primary agency responsible for implementing the court order. Manila Bay has become “one big sewer,” Atienza said, with the wastes of the people and factories of Metro Manila all flowing into the Pasig, on to Manila Bay. And now there are even proposals for six reclamation projects in the bay area, he added.

In the first year of the Duterte administration, the DENR focused most of its attention on the mining industry and the ill effects of many mining operations on the environment, particularly on watersheds and rivers. Former Secretary Gina Lopez was rejected by the Commission on Appointments but President Duterte has carried on her campaign to keep mining companies in line. The responsibility now falls on new Secretary Roy Cimatu.

Mining, however, is only part of the problem demanding his attention. His department must also look after the nation’s water resources – its rivers, lakes, bays, and offshore waters of the over 7,000 islands of our archipelago.

President Duterte cited this problem in his very first SONA and now we join Congressman Atienza in asking what has been done so far.

There is truly a great need for a nationwide cleanup of our water bodies – and we can start with Laguna Lake.