Saturday, April 21, 2018
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People power and political will

People power without the government’s political will often results in impotence. Consider the recent experience of Laguna Lake.

Laguna de Bay is our nation’s largest inland body of water and the third largest in Southeast Asia. It is 33 times bigger than Manila. Until recently, it is where justice reigned supreme.

In his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 25, 2016, President Duterte said: “The plane passes over that lake every time I go to Davao. I see there is no more space for small fishermen.” Saying he would address the negative impact of watershed destruction, land conversion and pollution, he added: “This is what I’m telling you. Poor fishermen will have priority in its entitlement.”


On Jan. 12, Duterte made good on his promise. The Laguna Lake Development Authority required illegal fish pen and fish cage owners to demolish their structures.

The Fisheries Code (Republic Act No. 8550) states: “Not over 10 percent of the suitable water service area of all lakes and rivers shall be allotted for aquaculture purposes like fish pens, fish cages and fish structures.” For Laguna Lake, this means a maximum of 9,000 hectares. But the law has been violated with impunity. Some 12,316 hectares are occupied by fish pens and fish cages. The 2,261 illegal fish pen operators are more than double the 1,018 legal ones. How did this happen?

Mel Felix, head of the Association of Laguna Lake Fish Producers, provides the answer: “The illegal operators usually have connections with mayors of lakeshore towns or with LLDA field agents.” This is the kind of corruption Duterte detests.

As early as March 16, 2012, a people power Trisec Laguna Lake Initiative was undertaken by eight national-based rural people organizations. Four of the eight are members of Alyansa Agrikultura (AA).

AA Co-Convenor Omi Royandoyan submitted a 34-page report funded by Oxfam that recommended significant Laguna Lake governance changes.

He wrote: “Community-based democratic people powered common resource management is possible only through organized actions of the stakeholders. To rely primarily on the state bureaucracy to achieve this objective will only slow down the process.”

Unfortunately, with no political will from the government, the people power Trisec initiative had almost no result. We still need the state bureaucracy to implement change. This change finally happened through the state bureaucracy. But it was made possible only because of the political will demonstrated by Duterte.

Illegal fish pens are finally being dismantled. This will allow the lake to flourish once again, and enable small fisherfolk to continue their livelihood.


Our previous presidents have talked about stopping Laguna Lake abuses. But nothing has happened until now, when the administration showed the political will that previous ones did not have.

Royandoyan said the first step in winning social justice is for the oppressed to organize themselves to form people power. But if relevant government officials do not support this with political will, no action is taken. This is why rebel groups like the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have resorted to violence.

The government’s initial response to these disgruntled groups is to counter this violence with superior violence. This just results in an unending and escalating spiral. The correct solution is for the government to exercise political will to support people power.

We are seeing this unfold in Laguna Lake. People power supported by political will is resulting in the illegal fish pens finally being dismantled, and social justice restored.

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