Philippine church groups fight to save largest lake

Dike project on Laguna Lake could cause more devastating floods, experts warn
Philippine church groups fight to save largest lake

Fishermen and residents around Sampaloc Lake, near Laguna, have expressed fears that they will lose their livelihood once the dike project is implemented. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Faith-based communities and people's organizations in the Philippines have united to oppose a US$2.7-billion-dollar government project that a church official said threatens the environment and livelihood of many people.

Monsignor Jerry Bitoon, director of the Ministry on Ecology of San Pablo Diocese, said people have joined forces to create a "stronger voice" against the project.

The project involves land reclamation, construction of a toll road, and a 45-km flood control dike around Laguna Lake, the largest lake in the Philippines located east of the capital Manila. 

The freshwater lake has a surface area of 949 square kilometers.

Monsignor Bitoon said the project was approved without consultation with the people, mostly fishermen, whose livelihoods will be affected.

"The element of transparency was absent from the start," the priest said.

"We consulted scientists and environmentalists who said it may endanger the environment and the ecological balance of the lake," Monsignor Bitoon said.

Geologist Kelvin Rodolfo of the University of Illinois warned the planned 700-hectare reclamation would reduce the size of the lake and worsen flooding instead of mitigating it.

Rodolfo, a member of the scientific community consulted by opponents of the project, also warned that the proposed dike could release a "catastrophic flood" if a strong earthquake hits the area.

"Our appeal is for the government to sit down and discuss this with all stakeholders," Monsignor Bitoon said.

President Benigno Aquino signed on March 22 an executive order creating an inter-agency body to assist in the implementation of the project

Ronnie Molera, spokesman of the Save Laguna Lake Movement said the local community would continue to oppose the project because of its "serious threat to our lives and livelihoods."

"Because of the destructive projects implemented by the past and current administration, the lake is now on its deathbed," he said.

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