'Calamity': Fisherfolk, families protest planned demolition of Manila Bay fish pens, mussel farms

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 07 2021 02:22 PM

A man swims to pass on a megaphone to another boat as fisherfolk from the Samahan ng Mangingisda sa Parañaque (PANGISDA-Pilipinas) stage a fluvial protest at the Manila Bay on Tuesday. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
A man swims to pass on a megaphone to another boat as fisherfolk from the Samahan ng Mangingisda sa Parañaque (PANGISDA-Pilipinas) stage a fluvial protest at the Manila Bay on Tuesday. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— A calamity akin to a typhoon. 

This was how a fisherfolk leader described the planned dismantling of fish pens, fish cages, mussel farms and other fishing structures at the Manila Bay. 

The Department of Natural Resources (DENR) had earlier put up notices in Cavite saying it would take down so-called illegal fishing structures beginning Tuesday as part of the Manila Bay's rehabilitation project.

This, even if its Calabarzon office said no dismantling would take place during the day.

But Gilbert Reyes, president of fishers group Pangisda Parañaque, outlined how the move would negatively impact their livelihood and families.

“Ang aming mga kabuhayan ay karugtong ng aming bituka sapagkat ang aming pamilya dito na nabuhay. Kung mawawala ang aming kabuhayan, e delubyo na talaga ito,” said Reyes.

(Our livelihood is deeply connected to us because our families depend on this. If our livelihood would be taken away from us, then this is like a calamity.)

Reyes, who has been fishing for 4 decades in La Huerta, Parañaque, said many of them only know fishing as a source of income, noting that they would have difficulty finding other jobs amid the pandemic.

"Hindi man tayo pwedeng umasa sa ayuda. Magandang may ayuda, malaking bagay. Pero itong demolisyon na ito, hindi po ito kaaya-aya. Kagutuman, kahirapan ang dadanasin ng mamamayang mangingisda,” he said.

(We cannot rely on financial aid alone, even if its intention is good. This demolition would spell hunger, poverty among us fisherfolk.)

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Because of this, Reyes and around 50 others from his community—some with their families— staged a fluvial protest at the bay on Tuesday to show their opposition to the demolition announced to begin in Cavite the same day.

Over 15 boats gathered at the structures— locally called “tahungan” and “saprahan”— more than 3 kilometers from the shore at La Huerta before traveling back to shore.

During the trip, participants held up placards and waved banners calling on the government to protect their livelihood and prioritize people over business in its rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

STRUCTURES A POLLUTION SOURCE, SAYS DENR

Reyes and his fellow fisherfolk have not received word about what would happen to their fish pens and mussel farms but they fear they would be next.

The DENR maintained that the structures not only lack permits but are also a cause of pollution in the bay especially during the rainy season.

“'Yong kanilang mga bamboo doon, 'pag nasira ng bagyo lahat ‘yan—wala na silang pakialam doon— aanurin na ng agos 'yon papunta sa Manila Bay,” Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones told reporters on Monday.

(They don't mind the destruction of their bamboo, most especially during typhoons. It only ends up being washed ashore in Manila Bay.)

Fishermen from La Huerta, Parañaque hold a fluvial protest at their fish pens & mussel farms in Manila Bay to show their opposition to the government's planned dismantling of so-called illegal fishing structures, set to begin in Cavite on Tuesday. Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News
Fishermen from La Huerta, Parañaque hold a fluvial protest at their fish pens & mussel farms in Manila Bay to show their opposition to the government's planned dismantling of so-called illegal fishing structures, set to begin in Cavite on Tuesday. Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Leones added that some people have turned the structures into living quarters, thus dumping human waste and garbage in the water.

The fisherfolk, meanwhile, said they sometimes stay for longer periods at the “tahungan” so they could easily haul the fish or shellfish when they get bulk orders.

In a protest outside the DENR Monday, Salvador France, secretary general of fishers’ group PAMALAKAYA said the mussel farms and fish pens have been there for years and contribute to the ecosystem instead of polluting it.

PUBLIC AFFECTED

Aside from the nearly 200 fisher families, hundreds of workers at the “bulungan” seafood market in La Huerta will also be affected.

For Reyes, the public should also join their opposition to the dismantling of fish pens and other structures at the bay.

He said while there are benefits to the planned rehabilitation and reclamation of Manila Bay, they are wary of its long-term effects if not done properly.

Among these are the food supply in the capital and surrounding areas.

"Kailangan tumutol din sila sapagkat ang aming mga nahuhuli na isda, mga shell na binebenta namin sa bulungan ay nag-aambag kami ng pagkain sa sambayanang Pilipino,” Reyes said. 

(They also have to join us with this because our catch is what they eat. We contribute to the food source of ordinary Filipinos.)

"Kung magkaroon ng demolisyon, ano pa ang makakain na mga sariwang isda, sariwang mga shell na nanggagaling dito sa Manila Bay at sa aming kabuhayan?”

(If the demolition happens, then what would they eat? Some of it comes from here.)

Since holding a protest at the shore last Thursday, Reyes said they have yet to receive a response from any government agency to their call for a dialogue.

The fishers' groups said they are willing to undergo the process of getting permits to operate the structures, which not only serve to cultivate shellfish but also provide homes for fish.

They are only asking authorities for time and materials to use to replace the structures if needed.

For now, Reyes said they would continue fishing and hauling shellfish there until they are able to talk to the government. 

—With a report from April Rafales, ABS-CBN News