SOLANO, Nueva Vizcaya: Deputy Speaker Carlos Padilla has directed the House Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries Resources to look into the diminishing supply of ludong (lobed river mullet) in the territories of the Bugkalot tribe in Nueva Vizcaya caused by the operation of an American firm-managed dam.
Padilla claimed the dwindling fish resources particularly that of the ludong could be traced to the operations of the California Energy (CalEnergy) Casecnan Multi-Purpose Irrigation and Power Project (CMIPP) in Alfonso Castañeda town.
CalEnergy owns and operates the giant $580-million CMIPP, a hydroelectric facility composed of two impounding dams and a power plant, connected by a pair of 26-kilometer tunnels. The facility was built during the Ramos administration to address the 1990s power crisis.
CMIPP diverts irrigation water from Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino provinces for irrigation of farmlands and to augment power requirements in Central Luzon.
“The lower Casecnan and Taan Rivers have dried up, thus, there is a need to look into how CalEnergy [California Energy] installed and constructed their facilities,” said Padilla of the lone district of Nueva Vizcaya.
Padilla said the CalEnergy may not have followed the design of the CMIPP plan during its construction which may have caused the drying up of the river and canal systems.
The representative said that it was agreed between the Republic of the Philippines and California Energy that only a certain percentage of water of Casecnan will go to the Pantabangan dam in Nueva Ecija.
“But why is it that the agreed 10 [percent]to 20 percent water which goes to Pantabangan dam have caused the drying up of the river and canal systems? Perhaps it is because CalEnergy has siphoned more than the agreed volume of water to Central Luzon,” he said.
Padilla also asked the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to produce all documents pertaining to the construction of the CMIPP facilities urging officials to investigate if there were any violations in the contract “due to non-compliance in the specifications” of the project.
“The Bugkalot tribe as a result of the ongoing operations of the dam has been denied of their economic opportunities especially now that ludong and other aquatic resources are fast dwindling in their territory,” he said.
Padilla said not only the Bugkalots from Nueva Vizcaya who are benefiting from the waters of Casecnan and Taan rivers but also those from Quirino and Aurora provinces.
A kilo of the fish specie, Padilla said, is sold at P5,000 or more which makes it as a good source of income by the Bugkalot tribe in Alfonso Castañeda and Dupax del Sur towns.
Meanwhile, Jovita Ayson, director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for region 2, said their agency was “not consulted” during the construction stage of the CMIPP.
“Our agency was not consulted during the project’s construction. Interventions should have been put in place to preserve the abundance of ludong fish specie in the Casecnan and Taan rivers,” Ayson said during a preliminary hearing in Congress.
Ayson said fish ladders should have been built during the construction and considering its construction at present is no longer economically feasible because of the irrigation project’s engineering design and insufficient water level.
“Without a fish ladder which is a series of pools built like steps to enable fish to bypass a dam or a waterfall, ludong cannot migrate to reproduce and with the 10-year operation of the Casecnan dam, there is now an extinction of the fish specie,” Ayson said.
To bring back the abundance of the fish specie in the said river systems, Ayson said CalEnergy must establish fish sanctuaries, deputize community residents as fish wardens and prevent illegal fishing to ensure their abundance in the area.
The BFAR said ludong or Cestraeus plicatilis is touted as the most expensive fish in the Philippines and has been since time immemorial served as a source of livelihood by the Bugkalot tribes in Quirino, Aurora and Nueva Vizcaya provinces.
Ludong is frequently referred to as the President’s Fish or the northwest salmon, also known for its role in fine cuisine, but is also listed as one of the world’s most endangered fresh water fishes.