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Liberating the lake

At last. A promise made by President Rodrigo Duterte, the accomplishment period of which he hasn’t pushed back. Some things are beginning to look up for 2017.

I refer to the “reclamation” of the Laguna de Bay/Bai/Bae (Laguna Lake, its other name, actually means “Lake Lake”), in the sense that its waters will now be accessible to the fisherfolk who have been impeded by the vast number of fish pens and cages owned and operated by the rich, or at the least, by the nonpoor.

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This was in response to an order in last year’s State of the Nation Address, where the President made a pitch for the small fisherfolk, who are among the poorest of the poor in the Philippines.  And it is being carried out by a team, led by Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, and including the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), the Coast Guard, the Army, the Navy, and even the National Bureau of Investigation. Why the NBI is part of it I don’t know.  I’ll take it on faith.

First to be dismantled are the large (100 hectares and beyond) fish pens mostly corporation-owned, but the work will continue until all except the baklad (fish traps owned and operated by small fishers) are removed. To make sure that there will be no hitches, the LLDA has refused to renew any permits after their expiration last Dec. 31. In other words, all fish pens are now illegal and can be dismantled without fear of lawsuits and the like.  Some of those fish pens have been there since the 1960s.

Not only the fisherfolk will benefit from this move, although they are a big component. The population around the lake (estimates range from 8 million to 20 million) also will, because the threat of flooding will be abated, and so will pollution. Navigation on Laguna de Bai will again be possible, which will mean more tourism, etc., etc.

Why Laguna de Bai was allowed to be cut up in this way and parceled out to private enterprise is beyond me.  It is an extreme example of the “tragedy of the commons,” which, it is to be hoped, will be rectified fully.

If this propoor move to liberate the lake from fish pens actually gets accomplished, there is no question that President Duterte will have succeeded where at least five of his predecessors failed. Too many generals and colonels and friends and relatives and compadres involved. Something has to be said for a Chief Executive who does not come from the area. And who is not giving in to the pressure of vested interests to replace Gina for doing her job.

While we are talking about good news to start off the new year, another set of welcome stories, this time on the war against corruption, has to do with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. She is the only Ombudsman I know who has given teeth to a law more than 60 years old (Republic Act No. 3079, circa 1955, and repeated in RA No. 3019, five years later), which holds that a public officer/employee is presumed prima facie to have unlawfully acquired assets that are manifestly out of proportion to his income, and that these assets are subject to forfeiture by the state.

Meaning—as far as I am concerned, anyway—that the public officer, unlike his private counterpart, is not presumed innocent until he has been proven guilty. He is presumed guilty until he can prove himself innocent, at least to the court’s satisfaction. Which is as it should be, because public office is a public trust.

Morales has been doing this since at least 2013, using statements of assets, liabilities and net worth as basis, and I know she has filed cases against a finance officer and a customs collector from Cebu, and against former chief justice Renato Corona, but I don’t know what the results of those filings are. Have any forfeitures of assets in favor of the state been made?  If not, whose fault is it? Can law students please tell us?

But she has continued to fight on.  And this time, she has ordered that similar proceedings be initiated against the late Maguindanao governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr.  Apparently, the culprit’s death is no hindrance.  And this time she has called attention to the fact that he and his family also failed to lead modest lives.

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Go, girl.  Make our year.

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TAGS: conchita carpio-morales, Laguna de Bay, Laguna Lake, ombudsman
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