Even after an “initial victory,” fishers say that they will stand their ground for their communities.
Words by Charleston Chang Jr.
Clam and mussel growers, fisherfolk and alliances from Cavite marched to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Quezon City office on the morning of September 6 to protest the now postponed demolition of fishing structures around Manila Bay.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, DENR announced that 370 fish pens that were deemed illegal by the environmental agency will be demolished along the Cavite shore. According to fishers’ alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), the homes and jobs of around 15,000 fisherfolk and coastal residents (all living in four coastal communities) would be lost.
Additionally, 351 mussel farmers in Bacoor City had their license on hold as per Mayor Lani Revilla’s orders, according to DENR Calabarzon. A dispute over the projected Bacoor reclamation projects has kept the operators from paying their annual registration fee.
“The government’s rehabilitation program has brought fear among the fishing and coastal population because its aim is to actually destroy our livelihood and displace us from communities,” PAMALAKAYA National Chairperson Fernando L. Hicap asserted during the September 6 protest.
Last August, the Manila Bay Inter-Agency Task Force announced that it will be dismantling fish pens, cages, and mussel farms without permits, initially scheduled last September 7. According to Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Party-list, this order is “unethical and immoral.”
“The order was only publicized on August 25, then they want[ed] the Cavite fisherfolk to voluntarily lose their sources of livelihood on September 7. This is not governance, this is tyranny […] If DENR officials want to join Mayor Lani Revilla as accused at the Ombudsman, it is up to them. They should prepare themselves to face the wrath of Caviteños and other sectors” Casilao remarked.
On the scheduled date of demolition, the fisherfolk stood their ground in the bay opposing the supposed dismantling of their fishing structures. DENR’s scheduled demolition project has been postponed giving the fisherfolk some breathing room for their upcoming confrontations.
“The suspension of the demolition is an initial victory for thousands of fisherfolk who were about to lose their livelihood. Yet we remain vigilant against any plan of the government to wipe out our only source of livelihood in the name of profit-oriented interests,” PAMALAKAYA said in a Facebook update.
Fishing for profit
PAMALAKAYA-Cavite and cultural arm Panday Sining Bacoor explained in a joint statement that only 700 relocation units would be allotted for about 5,000 households in the nine barangays that were expected to be affected by the push.
“Kitang-kita na huwad, kontra-mahirap, maka-dayuhan at maka-kapitalista ang mga proyektong reklamasyon na ito na siyang sisirain hindi lamang ang kabuhayan at tirahan ng mga mamamayan kundi ang karagatan na siyang nilinang mismo ng mga Bacooreño, para lamang patabain pa ang mga bulsa ng naglalakihang korporasyon at pulitiko [It is obvious that the reclamation project is false, anti-poor, foreigner-centric, and capitalist in nature, in that it will destroy not just lives and homes of the people but also the waters that Bacooreños cultivated, just to fatten the pockets of corrupt, political figures],” both groups decried.
They also lamented the hardships faced by the children living in the area.
“Dahil sa kontra-mahirap at kontra-estudyante na moda ng edukasyon, mas pinahirapan ng estado ang pag-aaral ng mga estudyante. Walang sapat na suportang pinansyal at materyal, mali-maling mga module, at hindi pagtugon nang maayos sa isang malawakang krisis pangkalusugan [Because of the anti-poor and anti-student mode of learning, the state only made it more difficult for students to study. There is insufficient financial and material support, significant errors in modules, and a failure to properly control the worsening health crisis],” they added.
Attempts to fish residents out of their homes were said to have started with ex-Bacoor mayor Strike Revilla’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). Through this, the “Old Bacoor” would be demolished in favor of an “urban redevelopment and heritage preservation area.”
This move led to several controversial projects such as the 320-hectare proposed reclamation project and the 100-hectare Diamond Reclamation and Development Project. Both of which were linked to demolition and forced eviction cases.
“Dahil sa mithiin ng pamilyang Revilla na magkaroon ng business at commercial district sa Bacoor Bay, tuloy-tuloy ngayon ang atake ng lokal na pamahalaan sa mga maralitang lungsod at lokal na mangingisda [Because of the Revilla clan’s ambition to build a business and commercial district by Bacoor Bay, attacks from the local government against urban poor communities and fisherfolk became prominent],” the fishers’ group said.
The two groups explicitly mentioned Frabelle Fishing Corporation, whom they described as having a “fishing monopoly,” as the company Mayor Revilla sought to take part in the projects.
(RELATED STORIES: In SONA week, progressive groups, Caviteños slam human rights violations, West Philippine Sea sale under ‘traitorous’ Duterte; Fisherfolk, artists stand ‘Against the Stream’ with anti-reclamation art exhibit)
Both PAMALAKAYA-Cavite and Panday Sining Bacoor recalled last September 2019, DENR, who they called the Revilla clan’s “ally,” initially denied the processing of the project’s Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC). However, by reportedly making it seem that the public was in support of this move despite objections from residents, the ECC was eventually signed (READ: Cavite groups protest development aggression, Bacoor LGU no show in dialogue).
Against the tide
DENR claimed that the main objective of the demolition project is to regulate illegal fishing structures because of pollution caused by aquaculture implements and after bamboo poles drift into the shores of Manila Bay following rainfall back in July. Although parties such as Manila Bay Site Coordinating and Management Office-4 regional coordinator Cynthia Rozaldo claimed that the proposed demolition will benefit small-scale fisherfolk, fishers and development groups say otherwise.
Among the groups that opposed the demolition project is the Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG). In a September 7 press release, they asserted that the council is with the entire fisherfolk and mussel farmers from Cavite in their fight against the demolition threat that will affect their communities and livelihoods.
CPDG spokesperson Liza Maza said that this action is proof that the DENR doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice the livelihood of thousands of fisherfolk as well as mussel farmers for the sake of “disaster risk reduction.” This only shows that the government doesn’t prioritize people’s lives and well-being.
“Considering that they are promoting the reclamation of Manila Bay and its tributaries to give way to foreign corporate interests, the demolition of fisherfolk communities in the coastal areas of Noveleta, Kawit, Bacoor, and Cavite City in Cavite seems to serve the same objective. We should not allow any move of the administration and its agencies to inflict more damage in people’s lives especially amid the crisis of a pandemic and its dismal COVID-19 response riddled with possible corruption,” Maza added.
Last August 26, Hicap disproved DENR’s claim of bamboo poles being pollutants, saying that these will submerge and therefore decompose underwater.
“Why make a fuss on the bamboo poles washed along the shore when in the first place, these are not pollutants that can cause damage to the marine ecosystem unlike plastic and other solid wastes?” Hicap slammed.
AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People described DENR’s objective as “ridiculous,” saying that the motive behind these demolitions was to make way for a large project that would cause greater environmental destruction. They said that it was to prepare for the Cavite Province Land Reclamation and Development Project which is a plan to create five islands in the municipal waters of Kawit, Rosario, Noveleta, and Cavite City.
“These reclamation projects, across its implementation phases, will impact not only the actual reclaimed area. Nearby municipal waters, where locals depend on shellfish farming, will also suffer as a result. Expected changes on water qualities brought by nearby reclamation activities will change their aquacultural yield and the health of the ecosystem,” they added.
As of press time, both Frabelle Fishing Corporation and the Bacoor LGU are yet to comment on the recent turn of events. [P]