It's all systems go for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) as the dismantling operation in the Laguna de Bay gets into full swing starting this April.

The two agencies will resume the clearing operation once an LLDA board resolution allowing large-scale fishpen operators to self-dismantle expires today, March 31.

In Resolution No. 518 issued by the LLDA Board of Directors last February 1, owners of large-scale fish pens and cages were given until the end of March to "harvest their fish stocks and demolish their structures," otherwise the LLDA and the DENR -- through the National Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force (NAECTF) -- will conduct the demolition with help from various law enforcement agencies.

The same board resolution, signed by DENR Secretary Gina Lopez and LLDA General Manager Jaime Medina as chair and vice-chair of the 10-member LLDA board, respectively, declared a one-year moratorium on fishpen operations within the Laguna Lake. This means that all structures within the 90,000-hectare lake are now considered illegal.

The LLDA board said a moratorium was in order, noting that "fishpens and large structures have increased in Laguna de Bay and have deprived small fishermen of their source of livelihood."

Medina however clarified that LLDA-registered fishcages measuring one hectare and below, which are operated by ordinary fisherfolk, will be spared pursuant to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to prioritize the average fisherfolk in giving entitlements to the lake’s economic benefits.

LLDA records show around 2,878 of these fishcages occupy a total area of 1,849 hectares or a measly 18 percent of the 10,181 hectares occupied by fishpens owned by only 347 firms and individuals.

The DENR and LLDA plan to complete the clearing operation by the middle of the year, in time for the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Duterte, who, during his first SONA last year ordered the dismantling of big fish pens and cages in Laguna Lake to allow small fishermen to gain access to the lake’s traditional fishing grounds.

Meanwhile, the LLDA is expecting the DENR to provide for the heavy equipment to be used in the dismantling operation.

LLDA General Manager Jaime Medina said they would need fully-mechanized dismantling equipment to allow them to speed up the operation and meet the June deadline.

Medina said the LLDA would need all the support they can get considering that the moratorium would result in revenue losses for the agency to the tune of P50 million. The LLDA usually collects fees and charges from fishpen operators.

When the dismantling operation goes on full swing, Medina said that first to go are 30 fishpens, each measuring from 50 to five hectares. These fishpens are either owned by individuals or companies.

Medina said these structures are prioritized for demolition for having violated the Laguna de Bay Fisheries Zoning and Management Plan and non-payment of fees and charges totalling P50.7 million.

The LLDA targets to dismantle a total of 347 fishpens covering 10,181.93 hectares, more than 90 percent of which or 9,326.1 hectares are occupied by 222 corporations, while another 620.49 hectares are operated by 114 individuals. The remaining 235.34 hectares are occupied by 11 fishing cooperatives. ###