Fish pen operators: Don’t blame us for flooding woes

Fish pen operators: Don’t blame us for flooding woes
SunStar Local News GPX

FISH pen operators who are member of the Tubigan Banilad Homeowners Association (Tubhoa) in Sitio Tubigan, Barangay Banilad, Mandaue City have cried foul over the announced demolition of their fish pens by the Mandaue City Government, calling it “unjust” and “inhumane.”

In a letter sent to SunStar Cebu on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, the group represented by Rushell Bregente, asserted that the City failed to follow due process and never had a public consultation on the matter before coming up with a “one-sided decision.”

The group also said a request for a meeting with Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes went unheeded.

August Lizer Malate, executive secretary of Cortes and head of the City’s Business Permit and Licensing Office (BPLO), refused to comment on the allegations.

“We will not comment about it. They can always substantiate their claims at the proper forum,” said Malate.

Demolition

City Legal Officer John Eddu Ibañez, who also heads the City’s Task Force Atong Problema, Atong Solusyon, shared in October 2023 the City’s intent to demolish the fish pens situated in Mandaue’s wetlands spanning some 146,270 square meters.

Ibañez noted the areas are supposed to function as catch basins that hold rain and run-off water from neighboring areas like Cebu City but could not serve this function due to heavy silt.

The City’s Housing and Urban Development Office (Hudo) then served a notice to the fish pen owners, giving them the chance to voluntarily demolish their structures while promising to provide P28,000 cash assistance.

An initially scheduled clearing operation was halted when the City Council decided to hear the side of the fish pen owners and other stakeholders involved during one of its sessions. However, Ibañez and Hudo head Johnbee Biton were unable to attend the session.

During the session, Tubhoa president Oliver Cabahug and Bregente appealed to the City Government to stop demolition plans and find other ways to solve the flood problem without compromising their livelihood for roughly 30 years.

Later in December, Ibañez announced that the demolition of 30 illegal fish pens in Sitio Tubigan will start by January 2024, as ordered by Cortes.

Ibañez said the City met with the first batch of landowners. He said all agreed to the demolition and gave their assurance that the fish pen owners would never return to the area.

The fish pen operators reportedly did not have the consent of the landowners and had no permits to operate a business.

But Tubhoa said in its letter that Ibañez’s and the rest of officials’ absence during the session showed their indifference to the situation, disregarding the council’s request to hear all sides.

“Allegations are only one-sided. The City Council has been informed of our need for aid during its regular session, and they have listened to us. The Mandaue City vice mayor, Glenn Bercerde, recommended inviting all the agencies that might have an impact on the issue, including the City Legal Office, but they did not show up. That demonstrates that they were indifferent,” read part of Tubhoa’s letter.

They also questioned why the City did not obtain any legal document to support their demolition initiative, such as a court order or a writ of demolition.

Not the solution

Tubhoa said the demolition of their fish pens is not the answer to the perennial flood problem in Banilad, particularly in areas near Sto. Niño Village.

The group said the City Government should instead focus on widening the drainage system in the area, as discussed and agreed upon by the City Council and the Sto. Niño Village homeowners officials during the last session.

“The drainage to the Butuanon River is insufficient to handle the water pumped out by Sto. Niño Village during the three days of rain last September 2023, which resulted in the fence around Sto Niño Village crumbling due to high water pressure that nearly overflew the fence at the time,” said Tubhoa. “The fishnets have nothing to do with the overflowing of the water because it has holes and it is floating in the water.”

On the contrary, the fish pens helped strengthen the City’s economy and prevent outbreaks caused by mosquito infections, such as dengue and malaria, according to Tubhoa.

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