CEBU -- Residents of Lilo-an town in Cebu on Monday questioned the authority of a private entity to fence Silot Bay, which they said should belong to the public and not to a private resort.
They want the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to answer how the Mendoza family, owner of Papa Kit's Marine and Fishing Lagoon, was able to acquire a title to the bay.
"It is part of the sea, how come they have a title for that? They are fencing the area because we heard the management of Papa Kit's wants to build a water park in there," said Claudia Maranan, one of the residents.
About 100 locals bearing placards gathered at the bridge connecting Barangay Catarman and Barangay Poblacion to air their protest against the fencing of the bay, which prevents them from entering the area.
Silot Bay is located between the two barangays, and a bridge over the bay connects the two villages. Several beach resorts surround the area.
Elvira Aranias, a resident, said the fencing of the Silot Bay started last month. Since the fencing, the residents can no longer take a swim or fish in Silot Bay, she said.
She also said that one of the photos they took of the work being done in the area shows a security guard, bringing a rifle, watching over the workers.
"Silot Bay is where our town Lilo-an got its name, because the current in the bay is like lilo (whirlpool). So this bay should belong to the people," says Aranias.
"Every Sunday, residents in Lilo-an would gather in Silot Bay to swim and fish, but now, we can no longer do it, because a security guard will shoot you if you do," claimed Maranan.
A security guard allegedly fired a warning shot, according to fisherman Primo Abala, when a neighbor tried to fish in the area recently.
Art Barrit, spokesperson for the Mendoza family, said they are not fencing Silot Bay but are only putting a demarcation line to mark their property.
Barrit said the family owns the bay, after the Supreme Court awarded the title to them about five years ago.
According to Barrit, they went through the proper processes in getting permits from the Local Government Unit and the DENR.
The people protested, he said, and a case was filed at the Regional Trial Court.
The RTC favored the people, but they appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
Barrit said they are not barring residents from taking a swim or fishing in the area. In fact, he said, the guards in the area help keep the people safe from harm, citing a number of drowning victims who have been found or rescued there.
Barrit admitted that there is an ongoing dialogue between the LGU and the management regarding the complaint of the residents, and reassured the public that they are not abusing the bay.
He said that if they were only abusing the bay, they would have allowed investors to come in and develop the area. This, he said, confirms that the management is not turning the bay into a water park.
Papa Kit's is a 90-hectare property of the Mendozas. Among the owners is Trade Union Congress of the Philippines partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza.
The residents said they will continue with their signature campaign to have the fences removed, and the authority over Silot Bay be returned to the public.