DENR urged to remove no-build zone markers in Eastern Visayas

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By Gerry Albert Corpuz 

MANILA, Philippines-A national federation of small fisherfolk organizations today pressed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to dismantle all no-build zone markers it had installed since last year and allow fishermen and other coastal villagers to return to their fishing areas and communities.

In a press statement,  the militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) asked DENR secretary Ramon Paje to remove all temporary markers it constructed indicating the 40 meters no build zone policy from the coastline of San Joaquin in Palo, Leyte up to San Juanico Bridge in Tacloban City.

“In the name of the collective interest and sentiment of the people, we hereby order the office of DENR Secretary Ramon Paje to remove the no-build zone markers from Palo to San Juanico Bridge and allow the safe return of small fishermen to their place of economic activity and abode,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.

The Pamalakaya leader noted that the no-build zone currently imposed by DENR covers some 35.88 kilometers from Palo to Tacloban City. France said the markers were installed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) upon the request of environment agency.

“Something must be done to stop Malacanang, the DENR, the DPWH and the rehabilitation task force of Panfilo Lacson from clearing the area of small fisherfolk to give way to corporate takeover of big business groups. The program of rehabilitation which the government wants to carry out is a extremely anti-people,” added France.

In opposition to the no-build zone policy, Pamalakaya last week staged a 10-boat fluvial protest in Laguna Lake to protest the no-build zone, no-dwelling zone policy currently imposed in coastal areas in Tacloban City and the rest of Eastern Visayas which were ravaged by super typhoon Yolanda last year. The protesters maintained that the same will be soon carried out in 9 lake towns of Rizal and 18 towns of Laguna and the cities of Taguig and Muntinlupa and would displace 3.9 million people mainly small fishermen, poor farmers and urban poor around the 90,000 hectare lake.

The 10-boats powered by ragtag 8 horsepower engines sailed along Binangonan fishport and carried placards containing the demand for the scrapping of no-build zone, no-dwell zone policy and the dismantling of Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NCHS) to allow salt water from Manila Bay to enter Laguna de Bay via the Pasig River to allow the cleansing of the lake and get rid of invasive fish species like janitor fish, snake turtle fish and knife fish presently pestering other edible fishes in the lake.

Pamalakaya said the fluvial protest in Laguna Lake is the beginning of a long-running battle against the no-build zone, no-dwell zone policy. He said more protests against the policy will be staged in different parts of the country this month. The Pamalakaya leader said protests against the no-build, no-dwell zone policy will also be staged in Tacloban City and other coastal towns of Leyte and Eastern Samar, Northern Negros, Northern Cebu, Northern Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz in Panay Island and Palawan in Southern Tagalog region.

“The movement against no-build zone, no-dwell zone policy will spread like wildfire. The people in the coastal communities will continue to expose and oppose this highly unacceptable adventure of the government to deny our fisherfolk the rights to livelihood and decent communities. The government of President Benigno Aquino III has no option but to recall the policy and stop transnational corporations and their local big partners from pursuing their land and coastal grabbing sprees in Yolanda stricken areas,” the group said.

The Aquino administration had imposed a a 20,000-hour deadline to expedite the rehabilitation of areas devastated by Typhoon ‘Yolanda. Among those corporations that accepted the offer of the national government to undertake the rehabilitation of Yolanda stricken areas are members of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) — a non-government organization created by the corporate sector to respond to poverty during the Marcos administration – and of the Philippine Disaster Response Foundation (PDRF), which pretty much the same companies organized last year at the height of calamities that struck the country.

Danilo Antonio, undersecretary of the rehabilitation campaign said the big corporations are called development sponsors tapped to identify and carry out priority projects in Yolanda devastated areas such as housing, education, health and livelihood. He said the rehabilitation of Tacloban City will be undertaken by the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT) and the International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI). In Cebu, the government will tap the services of Aboitiz and Metro Gaisano groups, while in Negros Occidental, the rehabilitation projects will be funded by the Ayala group of companies.

The national government also earmarked the 2nd district of Leyte for the Lopez group, while the Metrobank group will take the town of Palo also in Leyte. Meanwhile, Aklan, will be handled again by the Ayala group and Globe Telecom, while the 5th district of Iloilo will be handled by Ayala Land.  The rehabilitation contracts for the 4th district of Iloilo will be cornered by JG Summit Holdings, the 1st district of Iloilo will go to Metro Pacific Investments Corp. while Guian in Samar province will be given to Nickel Asia and other rehabilitation projects in the rest of the Samar will be given to ABS-CBN Corporation.

Pamalakaya said it is also revolting that the national government through the Land Bank Cares Program has allotted P 30 billion for private companies to support their rehabilitation projects in Eastern Visayas, while almost 9 million people displaced by Yolanda last year are still languishing in extreme poverty and lack of opportunities and social services from the national and local government units.
“The national government has earmarked P 360 billion fund for big business while the people are still suffering from poverty, sickness and loss of opportunities. The rehabilitation program is for business opportunities and not for people’s rehabilitation at all,” the Pamalakaya leader lamented.The group maintained that the  no-build zone, no-dwelling zone policy which rehabilitation secretary Panfilo Lacson wants to carry out in areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Visayas and other provinces will cover 171 cities and municipalities.  Pamalakaya said the national government have collapsed the 171 cities and municipalities into 24 areas of intervention that would cover Eastern Visayas and 34 more provinces affected by super typhoon Yolanda and Habagat in 2013 and Ondoy in 2009. Pamalakaya said a class war is highly needed to frustrate” the no-build zone, no-dwelling zone policy. It said an all-out war must be the victims collective response against what the group a grand declaration of war against the poor and an open invitation for corporate takeover in areas stricken by super typhoon last year. ” A class war to be participated by small fisherfolk shall be the ultimate and correct response to this looming national recipe for death and destruction,” the group said.
Pamalakaya noted that the cruel intention of the Aquino government is to remove fishing communities and contain fishing activities to give way to construction of economic zones in Yolanda stricken communities.  The Pamalakaya official noted that the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) is planning to build a new special manufacturing area in typhoon-ravaged Leyte under the pretext of rehabilitation and reconstruction process in Eastern Visyas.

The group learned that PEZA have already identified a 10-ha property that would be a possible site for the light industry, low-technology econozone. In addition, PEZA will also look into applications for special economic zones in the area so that the reconstruction and provision of jobs would be fast-tracked.

Pamalakaya argued that massive demolition of fishing communities is further bolstered by a bill  which has been filed in the House of Representatives seeking to create a special economic zone in the typhoon-devastated city of Tacloban, Leyte. 

The group was referring to House Bill 3640, or the Tacloban City Special Economic Zone Act of 2013, filed by 10 lawmakers from the independent bloc led by Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez, which stressed that establishment of the zone would spur investments in Tacloban.

The ecozone bill asserts that “there are physical, geographic and natural attributes of the Tacloban City coastline area that can make the creation of a freeport ideal. Tacloban port was a haven for international ships and even carriers as evident during the relief operations of some foreign countries in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda last November 8, 2013.”

The bill likewise said that the port is easily accessible to large commercial ships plying the seas of the Asia-Pacific Region and is just a few kilometers from the Tacloban City airport, which has plenty of room for upgrading to an international airport. Under the bill, the proposed Tacloban City Ecozone will operate as a decentralized, self-reliant and self-sustaining, industrial, commercial/trading, agro-industrial, tourist, banking, financial and investment center with suitable residential areas.###

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