Plandico Bay

I retrieved this investigative report written by Diosa Labiste for the Philippine Daily Inquirer sometime in 2001. It mentions the involvement of Raul Banias and Jett Rojas in fishpen operations in Plandico Bay, which I mentioned in my previous blog post:

Bay fish pens keep villages at low ebb”

by Ma. Diosa Labiste, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 29, 2001
Privately owned fish pens and cages are choking the Plandico Bay in northern Iloilo and the source of livelihood of some 500 families of fishers and shellfish and fry gatherers. Three of the structures, which cover almost two-thirds of the bay, are being blamed not only for depriving the communities food and access to the bay but also for the rise in pollution and siltation in the water body. Brothers Juan and Julio Alvarez own two of the pens, and the third, the fishers claimed, is jointly owned by Mayors Jett Roxas of Ajuy and Raul Banias of Concepcion. The two officials have strongly denied the accusation.

Leaders of the fishing communities recently asked the provincial board to help rid the bay of the fish cages and pens. If these were not dismantled, they said, the bay’s resources would slowly dwindle, its waters would remain polluted and the small fishers would go hungry. The 160-hectare Plandico Bay lies between the territorial waters of Concepcion and Ajuy and drains into the Visayan Sea through an opening of a hundred meters. Also called the Tinagong Dagat (“The Hidden Sea” -gss) by the residents, the bay is ringed by mountains, making it suitable to year-round fishing. During high-tide, the whole bay is submerged. When the tide ebbs, especially during the monsoon months, only 30 hectares of the bay area is submerged.

The Plandico Bay serves as the fishing ground of some 500 families in Barangay Silagon in Ajuy and the adjoining villages of Nino, Plandico, Tamisaac and Macalbang in Concepcion. Families also gather clams and other shellfish, as well as catch shrimp and crabs that are abundant in the mangrove areas during low tide.

After years of trial and error, a group of fishers in 1997 pioneered the raising of bangus (milkfish) in fish pens in the bay. With 202 members, they organized the Silagon Multi-purpose Cooperative. Bangus raising, timed during the monsoon months (October to February), proved to be lucrative. The cooperative earned more than P500,000 and many members received P20,000 each in dividends.

News of the highly profitable venture spread and three more fish pens were built, but this time, by private investors. Unlike the cooperative, which gives the bay a rest after one crop season, the privately owned pens and fish cages squat inside the bay all year to harvest bangus. The presence of the new structures sparked resentment among the cooperative members and the residents. In a petition signed by more than 400 members, the cooperative blamed the private fish pens for preventing them access to the bay to fish and transport products….

…The presence of the fish pens at the bay, considered a natural harbor, has kept away fishing boats and bancas that used to beach and take shelter from strong waves and winds during typhoons. The cooperative complained that the fish pens at the mouth of the bay were blocking fish coming in to spawn. At least 75 percent of the bay entrance is obstructed by a network of bamboo poles and the nets of fish pens.

The presence of fish pens has turned the waters murky, raising fears that a fish kill may not be far-fetched. Only a fraction of the feeds given to milkfish is eaten because the feeds sink too fast, are too fine or are not easily digested. The cooperative computed that every year, about 880 tons of wasted commercial bangus feeds are deposited at the bottom of the bay. The concentration of feeds can use up a lot of oxygen….

….The provincial board has yet to release its findings, which will be submitted to Governor Niel Tupas Sr. for appropriate action. Yet, the board members agreed that the fish pens at the mouth of the bay should be dismantled to provide relief to the fishing ground. Under the Philippine Fishery Code of 1998, only 10 percent of the bay is allowed for fish farming. In the case of the Plandico Bay, the board members noted that the pens and cages already covered 70 percent of the bay….

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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