THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources is eyeing to complete the dismantling of big fish pens and cages by middle of the year before President Rodrigo Duterte's second State of the Nation Address (Sona) in July.

This as the DENR, along with the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) and other law enforcement agencies, are set to remove large fish pens covering a total of 520 hectares on Valentine's Day.

"With members of civil society groups taking part in the demolition, the Febrruary 14 operation may well be a first in the Laguna Lake's journey. But the dismantling operation is just one leg of a long journey toward the lake’s revival," said DENR Undersecretary and Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force (NAECTF) head Art Valdez.

Valdez said the DENR and LLDA, assisted by the operatives from the Maritime Command of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard, inspected last Friday 15 bunkhouses occupied by workers of big fish pen operators in Laguna de Bay following the reported presence of armed men.

The armed guards manning the bunkhouses were allegedly scaring off small fishermen going near large fish pens set to be dismantled on February 14.

Following the inspection, he DENR and the LLDA sealed off "Sector A" area of Laguna Lake and inspected the bunkhouses there for suspected firearms.

But Valdez said no firearms were discovered during the inspection on the 15 bunkhouses within the fish pens.

"No threat was found following the operation," said Valdez, who led the inspection along with LLDA General Manager Jaime Medina.

Valdez said the purpose of the latest DENR-LLDA operation was to ensure an "unhampered conduct of dismantling" of all big fish pens and cages within the Laguna Lake, which started on January 26.

"This sends a strong signal on the government's determination to see an empowered citizenry reclaiming Laguna Lake, free of intimidation or fear of reprisal," Valdez said.

The dismantling operation is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's directive in his first Sona to dismantle big fish pens and cages in Laguna Lake to allow small fishermen to gain access to traditional fishing grounds. (SDR/SunStar Philippines)