Environmental watchdog EcoWaste Coalition backed the proposal of Environment Secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez to test fish from Laguna Lake to determine if these are free of environmental toxins such as lead and mercury.
“We support the initiative of Secretary Lopez to look into the potential toxic metal contamination of Laguna Lake fish, which are mainly coming from industrial and domestic pollution sources,” said EcoWaste national coordinator Aileen Lucero said.
Lucero said the monitoring of toxic metals and other contaminants in Laguna Lake should be undertaken on a regular basis to assure the public that fish caught in the lake is safe to eat.
Lopez had suggested the testing of fish in coordination with other government agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of Health. She said Laguna de Bay is overfished and “fish in (the lake) have been found to be heavy in mercury.”
“The decline or rise in toxic metal concentrations in Laguna Lake fish, as the sampling data would show, will be a good indicator of the effectiveness of government’s interventions and help the Duterte administration in realizing its vision for the country’s largest freshwater lake,” she said.
In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte announced that Laguna Lake “shall be transformed into a vibrant economic zone showcasing ecotourism by addressing the negative impact of the watershed destruction, land conversion and pollution.”
The EcoWaste Coalition recalled that a fish sampling conducted in 2010-2011 showed that “mudfish from Laguna Lake is not fit for long-term human consumption primarily due to lead and mercury contamination.”
“Long-term human consumption of mudfish from Laguna de Bay is not safe due to elevated levels of mercury and lead that were found to be above the safe non-carcinogenic hazard quotient (NHQ) values,” said Prof. Victorio Molina of the University of the Philippines-Manila who conducted the study.
While the levels of arsenic, cadmium and chromium do not pose significant non-carcinogenic health effects associated with the consumption of mudfish from Laguna de Bay, the concentrations of mercury and lead showed elevated levels that are likely to cause adverse health effects on fish long-term consumers, according to Molina’s report entitled “Non-Carcinogenic Health Risks of Heavy Metal in Mudfish from Laguna Lake.”
Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury are non-essential and are known to have the ability to bioaccumulate through the food chain, the study said.
“Lead is the most urgent pollutant of concern in terms of adverse health effects from risks associated with mudfish consumption from all sampling locations in the lake,” the study pointed out.
According to Greenpeace, a member of the EcoWaste Coalition, the Laguna Lake and its surrounding areas are under immediate threat from household and industrial pollution.
Household or domestic wastes constitute 77 percent of the lake’s total pollution load, industry contributes 11 percent, 11 percent comes from agriculture, and 1 percent from forests.
Solid and liquid wastes enter the lake by way of the 22 major tributaries and the more than 100 minor tributaries, including the periodically back-flowing Pasig River,” the group said.
Meanwhile, the militant fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas) welcomed Duterte’s order to dismantle vast tracts of fish pens in Laguna de Bay.
“This is what the Laguna lake fishers have long been waiting for; a leader who will address the welfare of the small fishers over big-corporations’ greedy interests. Large portions of Laguna de Bay have been occupied by big fishing and aquaculture companies for decades now,” Roman Antazo, Pamalakaya secretary general and also a fisherman from Laguna Lake said in a statement.
Pamalakaya said almost 60 percent of the 94,000-hectare lake has been leased to big fish pen operators by the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) through the Fishpond Lease Agreement (FLA).
This, it said, is in violation of the law that only allows 10 percent of inland waters to be occupied privately..
He said that the “corporate takeover” of Laguna de Bay left nothing for the small fisherfolk, who have been making their livelihood out of its productive fishing waters. The once communal fishing grounds for small fishermen are now enclosed with cages, resulting in overcrowding.
“We have experienced several forms of harassments from the armed fish pens personnel and deprivation from our livelihood when we go near the private fish pens,” Antazo said.
However, Pamalakaya said the group will oppose moves to transform Laguna de Bay into an ecotourism zone.
“While we welcome the President’s stand against corporate fish pens in Laguna Lake, we won’t allow transforming our traditional fishing grounds into an ecotourism zone that will put the lives of the fisherfolk in peril. We strongly oppose any plans to convert and transform the lake into other use such as tourist zones because that will also lead to displacement or prohibition of fishers to fish near the declared tourist spots,” Antazo said.
“There are many ways to conserve and preserve Laguna Lake without putting the lives of the fishers and residents at stake. We are open to hold a dialogue with the President and come up with more holistic and pro-people solutions for the rehabilitation of the dying lake,” he added.
James Konstantin Galvez