Banias shoots own foot on nylon shell issue

The more Provincial Administrator Raul Banias talks about how he is trying to enforce the law by directing the arrest of nylon shell gatherers in his hometown of Concepcion, Iloilo, the deeper the grave he is digging becomes. It doesn’t help that he has a plagiarist as back-up singer on stage. Their sound is becoming more and more like a voice from the grave.

In as many times that Banias spoke on the issue over Bombo Radyo Iloilo, so too has the number of times his reasons for stopping the nylon shell harvesting have changed. One is tempted to ask him point-blank: “Ano guid bala ang tuod, Doctor Banias?” That’s because each time he is interviewed, even the ordinary subsistence fisherman in Concepcion could glean his blatant lies. He can’t even stick to just one ground to justify his position.

This morning, Banias tried once again to repair his damaged image and, as expected, he stumbled with his distorted logic. It didn’t help that he was confronted with information that two other LGUs — Carles and Ajuy — already have existing ordinances regulating the use of compressors for shell fishing.

And the Provincial Legal Office last week came out with a new opinion, saying there can be no stopping the use of compressors in Concepcion and anywhere else. Maybe aware of this, Banias tried to justify the latest apprehensions by saying these fishermen transgressed the defined marine sanctuaries of the municipality.

Banias apparently anchors his position on the old ordinance designating the municipal waters of Concepcion as marine sanctuary where any form of fishing is prohibited. He refuses to accept the fact that the new Sangguniang Bayan had enacted a new ordinance redefining the metes and bounds of the marine sanctuaries and the areas where nylon shell harvesting is allowed. Of course, he avoids explaining why, despite the existence of that ordinance, nylon shell gathering took place during the last four years.

It’s not only in Carles and Ajuy where the use of compressors is allowed. Other coastal LGUs in Negros Occidental across the strait have also adopted similar regulations to enable their people to harvest this high-valued shell which appears to be endemic to the Visayas Sea marine environment. God has endowed these LGUs with a good resource, and it is a duty of the local government to make it accessible to hardworking fishermen.

By this time, of course, the real motive of Banias is crystal clear. He made millions from the seas of Concepcion, first as vice mayor, and then as municipal mayor, and Presidential Assistant. When Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor made him head of the Bantay Dagat, it was like, to use a phrase from Atty. Pet Melliza, giving the key to the blood bank to Dracula. He had the power to monopolize the fish and shell business, and this ordinance was a stumbling block to his greedy agenda.

All these years, Banias wasn’t really a true public servant. He made a killing out of public service. Concepcion remains a poor municipality where poverty incidence is high. Mayor Milliard Villanueva wants to turn things around by giving poor fishermen a share of the municipality’s wealth. It might not be enough to make them as rich as Banias, but at least it will give them a better quallity of life.

Anti-illegal fishing czar

Iloilo 1st district board member Gerardo “Gerry” Flores hit provincial administrator Raul Banias, M.D., in the jugular last Wednesday when he exposed the conflict of interest he had in the illegal fishing issue, especially in the 5th district of Iloilo. Flores told the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that Banias ought to stay away from enforcement of illegal fishing laws, because it won’t look good that he’s one of the biggest fish traders in the province. In fact, Banias is so rich now that he owns three Mang Inasal franchises. That wealth was drawn from the municipal waters of Concepcion, and political power was instrumental in making that happen.

Banias’s own track record shows a poor enforcement of the fisheries laws in his municipality while he was municipal mayor. The operators of prohibited fishing methods like “hulbot-hulbot”, “super-hulbot” and “palupad” were his biggest suppliers of fish products until Governor Niel Tupas Sr. came along to put a stop to their destructive activities. I remember Gov. Tupas conducted a community dialogue in Concepcion sometime in 2002; Tupas had grown frustrated that the LGU, which was supposed to be the chief enforcer of the fisheries code, looked the other way when these vessels operated. Banias put up a stance of passive resistance. He didn’t say he didn’t support Gov. Tupas; but neither did he manifest enthusiasm for the tough stance adopted by the former governor.

Indeed, it was shameless for Banias to tag himself as “anti-illegal fishing czar”. The conflict of interest is very clear. It was like giving the key to heaven to the devil himself. He could do whatever he wanted to enhance his business. He could give illegal fishers wider latitude in carrying out their activities; reports from the island barangays in Concepcion attest to this. In fact, during the period July 1 to December 31, 2010, the apprehension of illegal fishing operators went down dramatically.

So much has been said about the expose supposedly made by Banias on the “kotong” or extortion activities of four policemen in the 5th district. What is not known is that three of these policemen assigned to the Provincial Bantay Dagat were personal picks of Banias. These policemen were subject of complaints from municipal mayors about their extortion activities in the rich seas of the 5th district. The fourth policeman was assigned in Concepcion who was about to be removed by Mayor Milliard Villanueva from the municipal bantay dagat because he, too, was engaging in extortion.

When Banias got wind of the complaints against the three “kotong” cops, he made it appear that they were operating with the fourth cop and pre-empted the Iloilo Provincial Pollice Office (IPPO) in reporting their nefarious activities to the media. Banias wanted to appear “clean” and washed his hands off on the activities of his own men. He projected himself as an “anti-illegal fishing czar” who countenanced no hanky-panky among his men. Too bad for him, his story-line is burned-out. Nobody will believe him.

Preposterous and stupid

I can forgive Provincial Administrator Raul Banias over his inadequate understanding of the law. He is a medical doctor and the ramifications of the Local Government Code might easily slip his grasp. But as the “little governor” of Iloilo, he should get sound legal advice before dwelling into the minefield of legal discussion. His statements regarding the municipal ordinance enacted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Concepcion, Iloilo regulating the extraction, collection and harvest of nylon shells from its municipal waters have been downright preposterous and stupid.

Banias, in an interview over Bombo Radyo with anchorman Don Dolido, said that the use of air compressors as breathing aid for the divers who harvest nylon shells is hazardous to marine life. According to the feeble mind of Banias, the bubbles generated by the breathing apparatus of divers “scare” the fishes away. Where did he get this kind of reasoning? Only a moron can make this argument. Bubbles of air floating to the surface constitutes the least danger to fishes. If that were so, then the use of aerators should be discouraged in aquariums. Neither should it be used in fishponds then.

But Banias is scratching rock bottom when he tries to ascribe danger to fishes to bubbles of air. The illegal forms and methods of fishing are defined under Republic Act No. 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code. The use of air compressors to supply air for the breathing apparatus of divers is not included in its scope. It is much unlike the destructive methods of fishing such as the “palupad” or the “super hulbot” that Banias had allowed to operate in the municipal waters of Concepcion when he was municipal mayor. Well, that position might be understandable, because illegal fishing operators were his biggest suppliers of fish and marine products to shipment to Manila.

The plagiarist and hacker, Nereo Lujan, came to Banias’s defense in a column published on Monday, March 14. Reiterating the moronic arguments of his boss, Lujan harped on the supposed opposition filed by a chairman of a barangay fisheries council in Concepcion. In citing provisions of the Local Government Code, Lujan, who was kicked out from the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) 10 years ago on plagiarism issues, deliberately omitted that portion which states that an ordinance is presumed valid and effective if the Sangguniang Panlalawigan fails to act on it with 30 days.

Lujan also declared that the ordinance must be infirm for violating Memorandum Circular No. 129, series of 2002, of the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG). Perhaps Lujan, with his penchant of just copying anything that suits him without proper attribution, didn’t bother to read the document in its entirety. The circular “enjoins” LGUs to enact ordinances banning the use of compressors as breathing apparatus in fishing. Well, maybe he doesn’t even understand the word “enjoin”.

What is being overlooked here is the exhaustive technical studies and consultation undertaken by the LGU in crafting this ordinance to regulate nylon shell harvesting. Director Drussila Bayate of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) confirmed that Mayor Milliard Villanueva requested for her agency’s assistance in doing a study on nylon shells. The BFAR fielded five divers who are experts in fisheries to survey the coastal waters of Concepcion. A report was formally submitted to the LGU which, among others, outlined suggestions on the regulated harvesting of nylon shells.

This only shows that Mayor Villanueva and the Sangguniang Bayan didn’t enact the ordinance without first looking into every aspect of the nylon shell extraction activity. The municipal council mapped the Concepcion Bay, designated the areas where harvesting is permitted, and set strict regulations on the volume and size of the nylon shells to be marketed. Below the sanctioned size, the municipal fish wardens are empowered to confiscate the same and throw them back into the shallow waters.

Question: did the previous administration even consider crafting such an ordinance? Banias admitted commercial scale harvesting has been going on for more than three years. Why didn’t he mutter a protest? Just because the business was controlled by SB member Sandy Boy Salcedo, Banias felt it was okay to do so?

It must also be emphasized that the nylon shell phenomenon was discovered only four years ago, when Banias was still municipal mayor. He claims credit for it, saying it was his campaign to protect the marine resources of the town that helped bring back nylon shells into its waters. The truth is that Banias wasn’t really against illegal fishing. It was then Governor Niel Tupas Sr. who persisted in stopping all forms of destructive methods of fishing in the 5th district.

At one point, Banias detested the presence of the provincial bantay dagat in Concepcion. He even got the Sangguniang Bayan to pass a resolution declaring as “persona non grata” members of the PNP Mobile Group that escorted the provincial bantay dagat. Governor Tupas, on several occasions, warned him about the operations of his friends who used the “palupad” and “hulbot-hulbot” methods of fishing.

It is ironic that Banias is now using the same provincial bantay dagat to harass the municipal fisherfolk of Concepcion, and in the process trampling upon the prerogatives of the LGU to manage its own marine resources. But he should really get good advice on how to proceed on this issue. Slowly, the truth is coming to the surface, and he is being proved wrong. His preposterous and stupid remarks are only dragging him down like a heavy anchor, with his factutom Lujan serving as additional weight.

Usurpation of authority

The actions and statements of Provincial Administrator Raul Banias, M.D., regarding the apprehension of several nylon shell divers for alleged illegal fishing in the town of Concepcion, Iloilo betrays an arrogance aggravated by gross ignorance of the law and usurpation of authority.

Banias, who was municipal mayor of Concepcion for nine years, claims that the permits granted by the municipal government to these nylon shell divers are invalid on the ground that the ordinance upon which the authority was based is pending review in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Iloilo.

Banias insists that the ordinance is not yet in full force and effect until such time the provincial board ratifies it or renders it invalid in whole or in part.

This statement has made Banias, who also served as Presidential Assistant (in other words, GMA’s factutom in Western Visayas) the object of ridicule among SB members who had just come from a three-day convention of the Philippine Councilors League (PCL) in Manila yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport II.

Banias is wrong, wrong and wrong. It makes him look like a stupid fool in the eyes of municipal legislators who know their work better than he does.

First, a municipal ordinance takes effect, as mandated by RA 7160, after a 10-day period of its posting in five conspicuous places in the LGU. The same law directs the SB secretary to transmit the ordinance to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan three (3) days after its approval for review. If, after 30 days, no action is taken by the provincial board, the same is presumed effective, therefore valid.

The ordinance was enacted on Jan. 31, 2011. The posting and submission to the provincial board for review were done as well. The 30-day period had elapsed. So how can Banias say that the ordinance is not yet valid and effective? Actually, the municipal government can already implement an ordinance after the 10-day posting period. If and when the provincial board invalidates it, then such implementation will have to stop.

Second, the municipal sanggunian has the power to amend or even repeal completely any ordinance it had enacted before. Banias claims that this new ordinance violates a previous ordinance designating the Concepcion Bay as fish sanctuaries. He makes it appear that the old ordinance is carved in stone, and could not be changed in whole or in part.

What the new ordinance did was define in terms of latitude and longtitude parts of the Concepcion Bay where nylon shell harvesting was permitted. Unlike in the previous administration, the new ordinance seeks to regulate the manner and volume by which the marine product is harvested. It provides safeguards that there is no indiscriminate harvesting. It also mandates that the municipality exacts fees for the privilege to engage in nylon shell harvesting.

By Banias’s own admission, commercial-scale harvesting of nylon shells has been going on for three years. In other words, when his friend and ally Betsie Salcedo was municipal mayor, nylon shell harvesting was already a lucrative business in the municipality. He could have added that SB member Sandy Boy Salcedo, son of then Mayor Betsie Salcedo, controlled the business, with not a single centavo going into the coffers of the municipality.

At the time, the old ordinance Banias was talking about was already in full force and effect. Why didn’t he make as much as a whispered protest? He didn’t consider it wrong that the son of the mayor was extracting nylon shells. Of course, one can’t expect Banias to confess that it was he who discovered the money in nylon shells and pionered in the business just before the 2007 elections. When Betsie Salcedo took over the LGU, the business went to her son.

The idea to regulate the extraction and harvesting of nylon shells came to the mind of the new municipal mayor, Milliard Villanueva, shortly after he assumed office. He looked at the financial reports of the LGU and saw that a potential revenue earner for the town was being ignored and neglected. Villanueva imposed fees for the extraction and harvesting of the shell. To his surprise, the town generated P330,000 in just six months! For a cash-strapped municipality, that was a lot of money.

But Villanueva didn’t just collect fees from nylon shell harvesting operators. He asked for help from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) fisheries college and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in conducting surveys on where the nylon shells grew in abundance. These technical experts also advised the municipal government on the proper harvesting of the shell to prevent over-extraction. The input from UPV and BFAR became the basis for the new municipal ordinance which likewise defines the metes and bounds of the harvestable areas.

Banias knows that this ordinance will make it hard for Sandy Boy Salcedo to control the business. Unlike in the last term, any fisherman can now apply for a license to engage in nylon shell harvesting. For Banias, this is bad for their business interests. The new scheme of regulated harvesting of nylon shells had to be dismantled, he must have decided.

Third, Banias betrays more of his ignorance when he told Bombo Radyo Iloilo anchorman Don Dolido that the 30-day period prescribed in the Local Government Code stopped running when a Sangguniang Panlalawigan committee chaired by Board Member Suzette Alquizada conduced a hearing on an opposition to the ordinance filed by a barangay fisheries management council in Concepcion.

How ridiculous can Banias be? The review power of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan is confined only to the face of the document. It will only determine whether or not the Sangguniang Bayan acted within its powers in enacting the ordinance. That’s why as a matter of procedure, municipal ordinances are referred to the Provincial Legal Office for review and comment. “Action” in the context of the Local Government Code doesn’t refer to conducting hearings; it refers to ratifying or invalidating it.

Morepver. a “protest” is not proper in the review process. If somebody wants to challenge the validity of the ordinance, he or she will have to go to court. The only grounds that an ordinance can be invalidated in whole or in part is when the municipal council had acted beyond its powers to legislate, or termed “ultra vires”, or that the ordinance is contrary to law, public order and morals. The so-called “protest” is a most stupid, stupid idea.

Fourth, Banias said he ordered the arrests of the so-called violators because their activities violated the old ordinance. He is citing a municipal ordinance as basis for the action of the Sangguniang Bayan. For heavens sake, has anybody told Banias that the enforcement of municipal ordinances is a primary responsibility of the municipal mayor?

 If, for the sake of argument, Mayor Villanueva was negligent in the performance of his duty, then the proper remedy is haul him before the proper administrative body for the appropriate sanction. The provincial government, and particularly the provincial administrator, has no business meddling in the affairs of a municipality. Perhaps Banias hasn’t heard of the term “local autonomy” yet.

It is clear that Banias acted with stupid arrogance and usurpation of authority. And he can’t even hide his conflict of interest. Why, of all municipalities, he is showing inordinate interest in the affairs of Concepcion? He is supposed to be running a province, not play in the school yard called Concepcion.

Well, it might be told that Banias made a fortune in the fish business when he was vice mayor and then mayor of Concepcion. Maybe he’s just throwing his weight around to make sure his business interests aren’t constricted. He has shown that he’s willing to abuse his position to do that.

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….

Conflict of interest

One of the first statements that came from the new Iloilo provincial administrator was to belittle the accomplishments of former Governor Niel Tupas Sr. in the campaign against illegal fishing.  In his words, Dr. Raul Banias described the anti-illegal fishing campaign as nothing but an empty boast, pointing to the beat-up Bantay Dagat patrol boat as evidence. He also cited a decline in apprehensions during the last two years of the Tupas administration as an eloquent manifestation of such failure.

What Dr. Banias omitted was the fact that the provincial government was literally crippled by the incessant assaults staged by former Vice Governor Rolex Suplico and his allies in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan during the last three years. Fuel expenses were slashed, no money was allocated for boat repairs, and virtually every support needed to mount an effective campaign was wiped out from the face of the province’s budget. The Tupas administration had nothing to work with in terms of logistical support.

Even then, the anti-illegal fishing task force struggled to carry on its mission in stopping the destructive activities of illegal fishing operators in the seas of Iloilo province, particularly in the northern portion that includes Carles, Concepcion, Ajuy and San Dionisio where the richest fishing grounds are situated. Gov. Tupas tapped the help of barangay officials in Concepcion and Carles in this fight and released financial assistance to their LGUs to be able to build their own patrol boats. This is the reason that contrary to the lie peddled by Banias, illegal fishing was still kept to a minimum despite the imposed obstacles. No less than Dr. Ildefonso Toledo, provincial agriculturist, released statistics to show a different picture.

But there was one thing that Banias said that disturbed me. He was personally taking over the anti-illegal fishing campaign with a vow to mount an honest-to-goodness enforcement drive. What he is not saying is that this puts him in a conflict-of-interest situation. Not too many people know this, but Banias is engaged in the fish trading business. This started when he was still vice mayor of Concepcion where he controlled the buying-and-selling of marine products. During this time (until he became mayor), Banias didn’t raise even a whisper against illegal fishing. In fact, many of the illegal fishing operators were his suppliers. Several times when he was mayor of Concepcion, Gov. Tupas admonished him to stop his friends from plying their trade. Nothing happened. The seas of Concepcion proliferated with illegal fishing activities during his incumbency.

Now that he is provincial administrator, and poised to take control over the anti-illegal fishing campaign, Dr. Banias will enjoy unbridled monopoly over the fishing industry in Iloilo province. I challenge him to make a disclosure about his business interests in fish trading, to include his proprietary stake in a giant fishpen in the Plandico Bay between Concepcion and Ajuy in partnership with board member Jett Rojas.  This fishpen was subject of complaints from small fishermen for a long time. Two years ago, the DPWH had ordered it demolished, but Banias used his clout as Presidential Assistant to block that move. The fish business has made Banias rich.

I have a nasty feeling that allowing Dr. Banias to handle illegal fishing would be like giving the Kuratong Baleleng gang the combination to every bank vault in the country so they will just have to walk in and grab the cash without firing a shot.