Something's fishy in Atienza's anti fish pen policy
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-10-08

Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Lito Atienza has been attempting the removal of all fish pens in the Laguna Lake which is under the administration of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA). What makes his attempts questionable is that he uses a different reason each time he tries.

Your Chair Wrecker has been the recipient of appeals from the Association of Laguna Lake Fish Producers and Fisherfolks, Inc. to assist them in enlightening the public about their cause — why they should not be removed. The association would always emphasize the service and values they deliver.

These include:

1. The fish pens provide 36,400,000 kilos of cheap but fresh and healthy food annually.

2. The Laguna Lake fish pen industry claims that they and the other industries (fry and fingerling industry, nets and twine industry, bamboo industry, trucking industry, fishball processing industry and food packaging industry) which they support provide employment for easily 130,000 people.

In the light of a food crisis marked by scarcity of supply and rising costs, does Atienza have an alternative source for 36,400,000 kilos of cheap fresh healthy food to offer? In the light of a rising unemployment problem, does Atienza want to add another 130,000 people to the ranks of the unemployed?

Early on, the association said that they were being removed because the DENR Secretary found the fish pens unsightly. If that is Atienza’s concern, then the Tourism Secretary and not the DENR Secretary should be the one complaining. Environmental balance, not aesthetic landscapes, should be the concern of the DENR Secretary.

Later on, the association said that they were being removed again because of alleged pollution that the fish pens were causing. They refuted this new charge by citing the fact that photosynthesis in the Laguna Lake is so good that fish farmers do not need to feed the fish — the main reason why Laguna Lake fish can be sold at easily 20 percent less than fish grown elsewhere. A government commissioned study by the Institute for Development Studies attested to this quality of Laguna Lake photosynthesis.

In fact, the association members feel that they are victims and not the cause of pollution. Lake water quality is their prime concern because the fish which they will sell to consumers will not be bought if it is established that the lake where it is farmed is dangerously polluted.

Last Monday, Atienza threatened to sue LLDA General Manager Edgar Manda in court if he does not comply with orders to dismantle all fish pens in the Laguna Lake. This time around, after trying ‘unsightly’ and ‘pollutant’ as his previous justifications, Atienza found the recent Tropical Storm Ondoy flooding as his convenient excuse for removing all those fish pens in the Laguna Lake. Atienza now claims that the fish pens block the flow of water and causes the flooding.

Manda quickly clarified that the fish pens that have to be dismantled are the illegally constructed (no permits given to construct) and the delinquent payers of their annual fees. He also clarified that the recent Tropical Storm Ondoy flooding was caused by forest degradation, illegal structures (factories, squatter colonies), bad land conversion policies, poor waste management and the enormous volume of water from the dams. Urban planners will agree with Manda.

Atienza’s latest allegation that fish pens in Laguna Lake cause floods defies what a rational man will conclude after seeing what a Laguna Lake fish pen is like. You will wonder how nets can hamper the flow of water and cause flooding.

Nets can only contain or prevent the passage of solid objects like fishes but not something like water. Atienza’s allegation that Laguna Lake fish pens hamper the flow of water and cause floods defies both the laws of logic and physics.

We can only wonder what exactly is the real reason why Sec. Lito Atienza wants all Laguna Lake fish pens removed. From ‘unsightly’ to ‘pollutant’ to now causing floods — Atienza will need to offer a compelling, credible and valid reason for us to allow him to raise food prices and unemployment.

What could be so compelling that Sec. Lito Atienza is willing to worsen the food security and unemployment problems by removing a source of cheap healthy food that provides employment to over 130,000 people? Does he not realize that such a reckless move could result in a national security concern?

By command responsibility, what is the stand of Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) on this issue? Considering the inconsistency in Atienza’s reasons for justifying removal of the Laguna Lake fish pens, is she inclined to buy hook, line and sinker this new twist that fish pens cause floods?

Surely, GMA must place a higher priority on food security and the unemployment problem over these illogical and unsubstantiated allegations of Atienza that cannot even strike a consistent thread. GMA owes it to herself to find out why Atienza is undertaking this crusade of sorts against Laguna Lake fish pens despite the toll their removal will cost.

Most of all, GMA owes it to the country to explain if the removal of the Laguna Lake fish pens is a case of public service or another case of self-service.

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