Friday, November 21, 2014

DENR-Bicol orders crackdown on fishponds encroaching on protected sites
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Nov. 20 (PNA) -– The regional office for Bicol of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has ordered a region-wide crackdown on fishponds that illegally encroach on protected foreshore sites.

“We are now in the process of establishing that several fishponds across the region have been constructed within swamplands and mangrove forests which have not been released by the DENR for such purpose, hence, considered illegal,” DENR Regional Executive Director Gilbert Gonzales on Thursday said.

The process is being done through field inspections, inventory and verification of Special Land Use Permits (SLUPs) covering such commercial structures which when found illegal, will be immediately dismantled, Gonzales said.

SLUP is a privilege granted by the government to a person to occupy, possess and manage in consideration of specified return, any public forest lands for a specific use or purpose.

Certainly, there are some and DENR is applying due process so that the crackdown on this illegal use of protected areas is implemented with diligence, the DENR official stressed.

Initially, the process is now in progress in the island province of Catanduanes where at least eight fishponds in Panganiban and Viga towns have been reportedly developed and operating illegally for either encroaching on swamplands, mangrove forests and timberlands or entirely within the same prohibited sites.

Mangrove forests and swamplands are government protected areas because they serve as spawning ground of marine life and developing the same for fishpond use destroys such habitat and compromises the existing ecosystem.

These eight fishponds in two Catanduanes towns have already been evaluated by a special task force and were said to be developed decades back have pending applications for SLUPs with the DENR, Gonzales said.

There have been at least 18 SLUP applications for aqua-silvi projects filed with the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the DENR in Catanduanes as early as the middle of 1970s, some of them covering these illegal fishponds but only one has so far been approved but has already expired about six years ago.

The task force, however, has recommended that such applications be denied and its operators have already been advised to desist from introducing more improvements or from expanding their fishpond to give way to the restoration of the mangrove forests and rehabilitation of the swamplands that were illegally converted to fishponds, he said.

The rehabilitation and restoration process will first involve the dismantling of the illegally constructed structures, then the on-site forest management to protect, develop and conserve the mangrove forests and swamplands through arrangements with concerned local government units (LGUs) and other agencies.

Filing of appropriate criminal complaints against the fishpond operators and other persons directly involved in the construction that resulted in destruction of mangrove forests and swamplands in violation of forestry laws has also been recommended and being considered by his office, Gonzales said.

“After Catanduanes, we are going around all the other five Bicol provinces—Masbate, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon and Albay -- for the purpose of clearing out our protected coastal areas of illegal fishponds and other installations,” he said.

As soon as these illegal structures are demolished, the DENR and all other public and private agencies concerned with environmental protection and conservation, including LGUs, will follow up with restoration and rehabilitation aimed at reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities from the impact of climate change, among other purposes, the DENR regional chief said.

The climate change era makes it high time for everyone in Bicol to insist on the development of various ecosystems within the region so that its resistance to natural calamities -- like typhoon, flood, landslide, tsunami, earthquake and volcanic eruptions -- is enhanced, he added. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/EDS