Fisherfolks to block Laguna Lake’s ‘privatization’

ANTIPOLO CITY, July 23, 2010—Fisherfolks in the Laguna Lake had assailed the plans of having the lake “privatized,” saying they will do anything to block the attempt to make the 94,000-hectare lake as water source for Metro Manila residents.

Proposals have been made to tap the lake in order to resolve “waterlessness” in Metro Manila due to low water levels in Angat Dam in Bulacan, the primary water reservoir that supplies water to the residents of the National Capital Region.

Though the proposal is said to be for the common good, the fisherfolks fear that it would just be another scheme by big water conglomerate, Maynilad Water Services Inc., now being managed by the DMCI Holdings, Inc., a well-known construction and development company.

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Rogelio Singson said that the government is considering Laguna Lake as an alternative source of water, along with Marikina and Pampanga Rivers to address the water crisis and mitigate the impacts of El Niño or drought.

Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) general manager Edgar Manda, meanwhile said, his agency is open to the idea and even said that the Lopez owned Maynilad Water Services Incorporated could utilize its water treatment facilities to be able to get at least 50,000 million liters per day.

However, the Save the Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM), convened by the militant fisherfolk alliance, Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakaya sa Pilipinas, Inc. or Pamalakaya said if the government will allow Maynilad to develop the lake into a water source, it would create a larger problem.

“The idea is a crazy adventure aimed to realize super profits under the guise of social welfare but in reality are all about monopoly windfall at the expense of people’s livelihood, welfare and the environment,” said Pamalakaya National Chair Fernando Hicap in an e-mail.

Water crisis due to mismanagement

Hicap said that the current water crisis is not brought by the lack of water itself, but the privatization and mismanagement of water sources.

“Let me state the fact: The water problem manifested by water rationing in Metro Manila has been there since time immemorial; it was further aggravated when water concessionaires took over the operations of the water utilities that only rake profits but cannot improve their services,” Hicap said.

It was in 1997 when the Philippine government has granted the sale of the shares of the State-run Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System (MWSS) to Maynilad, then managed by the Lopez Group of Companies, and to the Ayala Group. This was made possible through the passage of the National Water Crisis Act in 1995.

The Water for the People Network-Asia (WPN) said in their latest study, even if the water services in Metro Manila and in the nearby provinces had been privatized, the services did not improve and yet, the price of water soared up into record levels.

“As a result of the privatization of MWSS, water rates drastically increased by 357.6% for Maynilad and by 414.4% for Manila Water in a span of only a decade, between August 1997 and January 2007,” the WPN report read.

Furthermore, from 1997 – 2005, the two water conglomerates had failed to provide the four million Metro Manila residents potable piped-water and about 11 million with sewerage connection, said WPN.

Possible “sale” of Laguna Lake, absolutely illegal

Hicap and his colleagues said that if LLDA and the DPWH will push the idea, they are culpable of violating the laws on the environment and the LLDA mandate itself.

Based on the LLDA’s website, the primary mission of the agency is “[t]o catalyze Integrated Water Resource Management in the Laguna de Bay Region, showcasing the symbiosis of man and nature for sustainability, with focus on preserving ecological integrity and promoting economic growth with equitable access to resources.”

“Although the LLDA is authorized under Republic Act 4850 to issue permits for the use and abstraction of lake water,” Hicap explains, “it is not authorized to perform acts that are deemed to destroy the ecological balance and very nature of Laguna Lake.”

Hicap said that the standing proposal of Maynilad is to extract 300 million liters per day (MLD) from Laguna Lake, which according to the group was extremely dangerous to the lake environment.

Proposal will close Napindan hydraulic controls

Moreover, the SLLM said that the proposal will permanently close the Napindan Hydraulic control system, thus preventing the entry of salt water from the Manila Bay to the lake.

If this happens, says Hicap, prawn and other fish species being cultured in the lake for local consumption and for livelihood will die.

“Fish species in Laguna Lake requires the mixing of salt and fresh water to spawn and survive,” Hicap said.

Fishing and fish cultivation are the primary source of income of some 500,000 people residing by the lake.

“If Maynilad’s plan will push through, it would mean death for that half-million people and will also endanger the fish supply in Metro Manila, in Laguna and in the nearby Rizal province,” he said.

Around 50.000 metric tons of fish and prawns are being produced in the lake every year, a good amount to supply the fish needs of around 10 million people.

“We therefore urge Mr. Aquino not to push for the project but to find an alternative instead,” Hicap said. (Published in CBCPNews.com)

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