The government has embarked on a massive demolition of illegal fish pens and fish cages in Laguna de Bay on Thursday.
Environment Undersecretary Art Valdez, who is also the National Anti-environmental Crime Task Force (NAECTF) head, said as of 1 p.m. on Thursday around 100 hectares of the lake’s surface were cleared of fish cages and fish pens.
This came as Secretary Nereus Acosta is on his way out of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) by the end of the month.
Sources said former Pateros Mayor Jaime Medina, President Duterte’s anointed official to the LLDA, has started to make his presence felt as early as Monday.
An agency attached to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the LLDA’s mandate includes regulating and planning the development within the Laguna de Bay area.
A source from the LLDA said Medina got Duterte’s nod and appointment upon the recommendation of top DENR officials.
“He [Medina] was recommended by Undersecretary Art Valdez. Last Monday, Acosta bade good-bye to employees of the LLDA,” the source said.
Interviewed by the BusinessMirror, Valdez, however, said he did not recommend Medina, but confirmed that the former Pateros mayor will be joining a massive demolition operation targeting illegal fish cages and fish pens within the Laguna de Bay’s portion in Binangonan, Rizal.
The operation was jointly conducted by the NAECTF, the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Valdez said.
The LLDA source said Medina had a meeting with the Executive Committee (Execom) of LLDA on Wednesday.
Acosta confirmed to the BusinessMirror that he is giving way to Medina by the end of the month.
“Yes, I am turning over the leadership to Mayor Medina by the end of the month,” Acosta said in a telephone interview.
He said he expects the LLDA board of directors to meet and formally accept Medina’s nomination to the LLDA with Duterte’s appointment.
“It is all for formality. The LLDA board will meet and accept [former] Mayor Medina’s appointment,” said Acosta, who held the position of LLDA general manager for five years and six months.
Acosta said the order from Malacañang was expected. For the meantime, the former lawmaker from Bukidnon said he will concentrate on projects and partner with academe, and attend to family affairs.
“I am not surprised at all,” said Acosta, who thanked Duterte for allowing him to hold over the position for seven more months after the assumption of the new administration in June last year.
“I am in a holdover capacity for more than seven months,” Acosta said, adding that he has been preparing to leave the LLDA for months even before the May 2016 elections.
Acosta’s relief came in the wake of criticisms of the LLDA’s failure to address the mushrooming of illegal fish cages and fish pens within the 90,000-hectare Laguna de Bay, the country’s biggest freshwater lake and aquaculture hub in Luzon.
Former Manila Mayor and now Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay criticized Acosta for the proliferation of the illegal fish cages and fish pens in the area.
A former DENR secretary himself, Atienza failed to enforce his own “zero fish cage” policy during his stint as chief steward of the state environment agency during the Arroyo administration.
Last December Environment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez ordered a one-year moratorium on fish-cage and fish-pen operators in order to execute Duterte’s order to decongest the lake and allow small fishermen to have greater access to their traditional fishing grounds.
She said the DENR will give the fish-cage and fish-pen operators time to harvest their stock and voluntarily demolish their structures so they could recover their construction materials.
On Thursday, however, the NAECTF, backed by law enforcers from the PNP, PCG and NBI, started the massive demolition.
Valdez said they intended to remove illegal fish cages and fish pens from one town to the next, starting in Binangonan, Rizal.
Two big patrol vessels and a dozen speedboats will be deployed, signaling the start of the demolition.
“This will be massive demolition. There will be no letup,” he said. According to Valdez, clearing the lake of obstructions will take time because the expanse of surface water is covered with fish cages and fish pens.
Around 13,000 hectares of the lake’s surface, way above the 10-percent capacity of the lake as mandated by the Fisheries Code of the Philippines, is occupied by fish cages and fish pens.
Most of the fish-cage and fish-pen operators are agricultural companies, big cooperatives or moneyed and influential individuals with ties to local government officials within the Laguna de Bay area. One fish-pen operator, according to Lopez, operates 50 hectares of fish-pen.
Besides limiting small fishermen from fishing in supposedly open waters, massive operation of fish cages and fish pen is partially being blamed for the degradation of the lake’s environment.