MANILA, October 8, 2010—To the fishermen’s disappointment, William Rolf, senior fisher officer of the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had rejected the request of the group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) to probe the impending dredging of the largest freshwater lake in the Philippines, the Laguna de Bai.
“It is not in our mandate. I suggest you bring your case to the UN Human Rights Council or refer those cases to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food,” Rolf said as quoted by Corpuz during a coffee break. The Pamalakaya information officer said he was disappointed with the UN-FAO Senior Policy Officer saying the world body had abandoned its political and moral job to hold the Philippine state accountable for destruction of food sources in the country,” says Rolf in a statement, in the sidelight of the UN-FAO-COFI Regional Workshop on Small-Scale Fisheries held in Bangkok, Thailand, which has started October 6 and will conclude today, October 8.
Gerry Albert Corpuz, Pamalakaya’s senior information and public affairs’ officer, told CBCPNews via email, that it was very disappointing hearing from FAO that they cannot act on the issue of the Laguna de Bai problem as it poses grave threat to the food and economic security of more millions of people that depend on the lake for livelihood. Corpuz is in Bangkok to attend the said conference.
“I have personally filed our request before the FAO, to send a group of experts to look the possible ill-effect, for both the environment and country’s food security, of the P18.7-billion (US$431,770,941.13, based on the prevailing exchange rate of P43.31:$1.00),” he said.
Fishers’ rights will be violated 24/7 if the project would push through—Pamalakaya
In a copy of his speech, Corpuz has told the delegates coming from India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines that if the Belgian-funded project would push through, the Laguna de Bai’s fisherfolks’ collective rights to fishing, food and livelihood will be “grossly violated 24 hours a day, 7 days a weeks, 30 days month and 12 months a year by the public-private partnerships.
“[A]nd these violations are… sanctioned and made legal by the Philippine governments and other governments obsessed to foreign investments and capitals. The UN FAO and COFI should look into these violations and perform measures that will hold public-private or government-private partnerships accountable. But the trouble is both the government and the FAO invoke the principle of national sovereignty in a narrow and distorted way to mislead the international community,” read Corpuz’s speech.
According to Corpuz, Laguna Lake is a home to six (6) million people : around two million are living in the immediate surroundings and lake shore of Laguna de Bay.
He also said that co-existing with the 6 million people are the 23 fresh water fishes and the 10 salt water fish species and the 26 types of lake-water based plants which regularly provide direct and immediate livelihood to 100,000 fishing families in Laguna Lake.
“Red carpet” welcome to profit-hungry investors
He also said that dredging project is but a prelude, a move to “clear all obstacles to the red carpet entry of big investments and large-scale projects,” which the only interest is to rake super-profits from the “development” of the 98,000-hectare lake.
Based on its own investigation, Pamalakaya had found out that comes with the dredging project is the creation of the Rizal International Airport to be constructed in Taguig City beginning 2015. Taguig City is one of municipalities that is in the lake’s shore.
Corpuz told CBCPNews that various reclamation activities in Laguna de Bay, had already begun.
“In Taguig, 3,500 hectares of the shore and waters will be reclaimed, with around 35,000 families will be displaced,” Corpuz said.
In addition to these, Corpuz also said that there are other “developmental plans” for the lake such as the construction of a 9.8-kilometer wide road and dike from Taguig to Taytay; another 9.5 km stretch road and dike from Bicutan to Taguig; a 28-kilometer road and dike structure from Sta. Rosa to Calamba City; another 32-kilometer-wide dike and road from Bay to Sta.Cruz also in Laguna province; a 28-kilometer stretch of roads and dikes from Siniloan to Kalayaan, also in Laguna; an additional 10-kilometer road in lake portion of Tanay in Rizal.
Corpuz explained that the reclamation and dam construction aimed to raise the water holding capacity of the lake to at least 14 meters where it will complement with lifetime closure of Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NCHS) to prevent saltwater of Manila Bay from coming into to the lake via the Pasig River.
“These measures will effectively stop fishing communities from sourcing their livelihood from the lake and push the summary evictions of not less than 400,000 fishing and urban poor families or roughly two million people,” stressed Corpuz.
The yearly fish production in Laguna Lake through fish capture and fish culturing (fish pens and fish cages) amount to 410,000 metric tons which supplies the fish food needs of more than 10 million people in Metro Manila.
While the FAO had turned down their request, says Corpuz, the UN agency said that it will refer the case before the UN Human Rights Commission.
Corpuz also said that they will set a dialogue with the appropriate agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to ask their help in order to thwart the project. (SPECIAL REPORT for CBCPNews.com)