Militants to Loren: Slowdown on relocation of lakeshore residents

By Rey Manangan, Tootsie Roll Arcadia and Lollipop delos Reyes

Manila, Philippines- The lake wide fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and staunch ally- the multisectoral alliance Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) on Sunday said Senator Loren Legarda should slowdown on her proposal to relocate tens of thousands of fisherfolk and residents of lakeshore towns, including alleged illegal settlers at the mouth of the lake.

Pamalakaya and SLMM added this might be exploited by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) which had programmed the conversion of the lake for private use and profit-driven activities at the expense of lake people and the environment.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said his group wanted to get in touch with Legarda, who chairs the Senate oversight committee on climate change, after they learned that she already agreed with LLDA General Manager Edgar Manda on the immediate relocation of residents without conducting first a public consultation with the affected people.

“We are aware of the honest and noble purpose of Sen. Legarda, her concern for the people and the environment, but the good senator should first consult the people, learn and understand their collective interest and current sentiment on the proposed relocation before subscribing to the suggestion of Mr. Manda, who is known in the Laguna Lake community as lapdog of big business, a certified puppet of the Office of the President, and a public official with cruel intentions against the people,” the Pamalakaya leader said in a press statement.

Legarda who ran in the 2004 election for vice-president and 2007 in the senatorial election was endorsed and supported by Pamalakaya for her outstanding advocacy on environment, peace talks and her gallant cause against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“To set the record straight, we have (been) anticipating the senator’s invitation for us to appear in the hearing of the Senate oversight committee on climate change, but up to now, no invitation was sent to our national office. Perhaps in the next hearing, the good senator will invite us to hear and know the real score coming from the lake folk and not from Mr. Manda alone,” Hicap added.

On Saturday, Sen. Legarda and Manda conducted an ocular inspection of the lake whose water level at the height of tropical storm Ondoy reached 14.5 meters from its normal level of 12.5 meters. She and the LLDA chief reached the poor community after inspecting flooded areas along Pasig River from Guadalupe in Makati City to Pasig.

Legarda said the LLDA had repeatedly warned the Lupang Arenda, a community of shanties built along the banks of the lake in Taytay, Rizal, was permanently at risk of flooding at every abnormal rise of the water level. She said the residents and the government should agree on permanent relocation site.

As many as 100,000 households in Lupang Arenda, Cainta and Pasig have been displaced by the abnormal rise in lake’s water level but Lupang Arenda residents have resisted relocation, telling LLDA that they had been paying fees to the National Housing Authority for a permit to stay in the reclaimed area.

Yesterday, Pamalakaya attended a meeting of calamity victims in Muntinlupa where tens of thousands of lakeshore residents and fishermen are still submerged in deep waters. The consultation among fisherfolk and residents was called by Bayan-NCR and the Muntinlupa chapters of party list groups—Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kabataan Party and Akap-Bata.

During the consultation, Pamalakaya information officer Gerry Albert Corpuz explained that the immediate cause of continuous flooding was the permanent closure of Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NCHS), a flood support structure, the prevented excess waters of Laguna Lake to flow into Pasig River on its way to Manila Bay.

“The people there are open for relocation provided that the following requirements will be addressed by the national and local governments—on city relocation that will provide decent mass housing for calamity victims, provisions for comprehensive rehabilitation projects and social services and the immediate yet productive creation of jobs for thousands of displaced residents,” he said.

According to Corpuz, Bayan-NCR and local chapters of progressive party list groups and urban poor organizations today will conduct a fluvial parade in Muntinlupa, that will include distribution of relief goods to several calamity stricken villages and clean up.

“Bayan-NCR and the people in the lakeshore side of Muntinlupa are doing their very best to address the immediate needs and demands under Kilusang Bayanihan movement. Sen. Legarda should involve them in the current hearing of her committee on climate change. They can speak on the matter more than Mr. Manda,” the Pamalakaya information chief added.

Earlier, Pamalakaya and Save Laguna Lake Movement urged leaders of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to also prioritize the legislative inquiry on Laguna Lake which is still under 14.5 meter deep since tropical storm Ondoy hit the country on Sept.26.

“Today is Oct.18 or about 22 days since storm Ondoy turned Laguna Lake into a virtual water world. Do we need 40 days before Congress takes up an inquiry on the ill-fated 90,000 hectare lake? Excuse us, but Laguna Lake, its people and environment are not dead entities waiting for 40-day ritual,” the groups said.

Pamalakaya added: “Let me remind our lawmakers that 30 towns and cities of Rizal and Laguna provinces and the National Capital Region were swallowed by Laguna Lake at the height of storm Ondoy affecting 2.2 million out of the 6 million fisherfolk and lake shore population. But the investigation is not moving as if the issue on hand is just a dime-a-dozen concern”.

The groups noted that only a handful of lawmakers agreed to their proposal for an all-out investigation on the current state of Laguna Lake. They are Senators Jamby Madrigal and Legarda in the Senate, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon and militant party list lawmakers Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casino and Neri Colmenaras of Bayan Muna, Luzviminda Ilagan and Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party, Raymond Palatino of Kabataan Party and Rafael Mariano and Joel Maglunsod of Anakpawis party list.

“The Senate has 23 senators and the House of Representatives has 255 congressmen. But only a few good men and women managed to rise above the occasion. It is not too late for the leadership of both Houses and their peers to come to their senses and start the ball rolling on Laguna Lake catastrophe,” added Pamalakaya.

The lake-based groups said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Prospero Nograles should discourage members of the Senate and the House from going into vacation or abroad and instead call for special sessions that will look into the impacts of storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng and root the causes of the twin catastrophe that plagued the almost entire island of Luzon. Both houses are set to have their recess on Oct.15.

“No more foreign trips please, and the lawmakers should continue their legislative work by pursuing these investigations in aid of legislation and by going back to their respective districts and find out the needs of their devastated constituents,” Pamalakaya added.

Prior to typhoon Ondoy, Pamalakaya and SLLM asserted that towns and cities surrounding the lake were already flooded. The groups attributed the flooding to the closure of the NCHS that prevented excess waters of Laguna Lake from passing through Pasig River on its way to Manila Bay. Both groups said at the height of typhoon Ondoy, the Napindan channel was still closed impounding more waters to the lake and later spilled to 30 towns in Rizal, Laguna and Metro Manila.

The Social Action Center of San Pablo City in Laguna said the mass flooding affected 20 towns of Laguna, excluding several towns in Rizal province and had displaced around 750,248 people mostly fisherfolk, farmers and urban poor.

The most affected towns are the towns of Binan where 45,125 families or 198,700 people were displaced, followed by San Pedro (25,606 families or 153,636 people affected), Sta.Cruz (20, 498 families or 102,590 people displaced) Sta. Rosa (14,951 families or 77,052 people displaced), Cabuyao (7,670 families or 46,001 persons affected), Calamba (8,024 families or 33, 819 people affected) and Los Banos (5,496 families or 29,730 people displaced.

Pamalakaya and SLLM suggested the following names and offices to be invited or subpoenaed for the congressional inquiry, whether separate or joint congressional inquiry.

Their list includes environment Secretary Joselito Atienza, Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) General Manager Manda, the governors of Rizal and Laguna provinces, mayors and local government officials of affected 30 towns and cities surrounding the lake, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the officials of Board of Investment (BOI), the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and the Office of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to represent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. #

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