Today's Punto
Today's Punto
When the fish float
By Bong Lacson

Sep 28, 2017

“APECTADU ING cabyayan mi quening danuman. Mengamate la reng asan pauli ning polusyun menibat careng factory qng babo, at ngeni icami ing magcasaquit (Our livelihood in the waterways is affected. The fishes were killed due to pollution caused by factories from upstream and now we are the ones suffering).”

The lamentation of former Masantol vice mayor Marcelo “Bajun” Lacap, Jr. just resurrected the abomination that plagued southern Pampanga in the last three decades of the 1900s – industrial pollution that veritably killed all life downstream the Pampanga River.

For most of the 2000s under the antipollution radar, the Far Eastern Alcohol Corp. (Feaco) in Apalit town suddenly blipped with a vengeance last Sept. 19 – spewing its effluents into the river, wreaking havoc on both the fishing grounds of sustenance fisherfolk and the commercial fishponds of Macabebe and Masantol towns that comprise the backbone of the local economy.

Feaco was, in fact, the lesser of the Apalitbased twin evils that wrought the degradation of the Pampanga River culminating in the 1990s. The greater, aye, worst than worse scourge was the Central Fermentation and Industrial Corp. (CFIC) which was more than triple the size of Feaco, and therefore, more than three times in the volume of untreated industrial wastes it routinely drained into the Pampanga River.

CFIC’s reported connection with the powers-that-were at the time – one of the owners allegedly bestowed a foreign posting in the Cory Aquino government; CFIC sourcing its raw materials, read: molasses, from Hacienda Luisita – made it virtually invincible to any, and all, attempts to make it pay for the devastation it caused on the marine life and the livelihood of those dependent on it in that part of Pampanga, and to an extent, Bulacan, principally, Calumpit and Hagonoy towns.

Orders for suspension of operations went CFIC’s way, to be fair to the local government of Apalit and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources. Only, just as fast, if not faster, the CFIC went on its polluting way.

It was in 1996, that the DENR Region 3 office, reinvigorated by Director Ricardo V. Serrano, pursued a relentless campaign against CFIC winning a court order for its closure.

Independence Day, 1997 – Serrano and Central Luzon Police director Chief Supt. Edgardo Aglipay led a posse comprising local government executives of Pampanga and Bulacan, NGOs, farmers, fishermen and the media in padlocking and sealing the CFIC plant to stop all its operations.

But CFIC did not go down without a fight. On that very day of its closure, Philippine Star’s Ding Cervantes was nearly made a martyr – a shotgun blast from an allegedly sleepy CFIC security guard planted a bolitas in the intrepid newsman, but not where it was supposed to be most efficacious. To this day, Ding keeps the pellet in his body.

CFIC waged a legal battle that ultimately led to its demise. It permanently shut down, its plant completely dismantled a little over a year it was padlocked – in some twist of fate, a few days after its nemesis – Director Ricardo V. Serrano – was killed in a daylight ambush along a busy intersection in Quezon City.

In all appearances now, Feaco has taken up where CFIC left off , and how!

Pepalinis at pepacutcut da nala deng aliwang mequa qng sacup ning Masantol pero atin pamu rin mitatagan at ngeni mebantut ne ing ilog (We have cleaned that portion of the river within the boundary of Masantol and buried the dead fish collected there. But there were still a few left. The river now stinks),” said Lacap.

This, even as Masantol Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief Jess Manansala clarified that the supposed “fish kill” is not yet confi rmed, pending results of studies conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. He added that Feaco management has already coordinated with his office to address the problem.

For its part, the Apalit LGU immediately issued a 30-day cease-and-desist order on Feaco as “just an initial action.”

Said municipal administrator Glenn Danting: “It does not mean that after 30 days, it will automatically be lifted. Other terms and possible intervention will be discussed in the municipal council session on Tuesday.”

On Thursday, it was reported that the LGU was mulling an extension to the CDO with Mayor Peter Nucom quoted by Sun-Star Pampanga as saying: “Hindi lang one month, actually hindi ko talaga masabi pero at least three or four months pa. Ang kailangan kasi dito ay rehabilitation. Hangga’t hindi ma-clear ang mga machines nila, wala silang permit. Para masiguro din natin na hindi na mauulit ito (Not just one month, I cannot really say but at least three to four months for the neded rehabilitation. Until their machines are cleaned, they will not be given permit (to operate). If only to make sure this incident will not happen again).” Nucom also enjoined Feaco to make a public apology to the people of Macabebe and Masantol towns. Indeed, exigencies are called for here. The adverse impact of Feaco’s effluents is as sudden as long-term on the environmental state of the river and the livelihood of the communities depending on it.

As Lacap put it poignantly: “Maluat a panaun para macapangabyayan caming manasan qing cailugan pasibayu. Anggang ela pa ma-replenish ding mengamate asan, ala caming asahan a cabyayan (It will take long before we can go fi shing again. Until the river is replenished with new stock, we cannot hope for a return to our livelihood).”

And yes, amid this crisis at hand, where’s the DENR, particularly its Environmental Management Bureau?

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