Pangasinan town fish cages, pens sources of tense poll rivalries



DAGUPAN CITY—The proliferation of fish pens and cages in a river in Agno, Pangasinan, has become a source of intense political rivalry in the town as local candidates prepare for the start of the campaign period for the May 13 elections.

Senior Supt. Marlou Chan, provincial police director, said it was only from Agno where he received a complaint that the pens and cages were being used as sources of campaign funds.

“They asked me, ‘How do you level the playing field if there are many illegal fish pens here?’ So we are now conferring with appropriate agencies to resolve the issue,” Chan said.

An Agno resident, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said there are now 20 fish pens and cages in the Balincaguing River, a major river system that originates from the Zambales mountains and snakes through the towns of Mabini, Burgos and Agno and out to the West Philippine Sea.

Chan said the operation of fish pens and cages in the river has been tolerated by the local government.

“It’s really very ironic, [this is] a nonpolice issue becoming a source of intense political rivalry,” he said.

Agno is one of the 15 election areas of concern in Pangasinan.

The mayoral race in the town pits reelectionist Mayor Jose Pajeta Jr., who is running under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, against Gualberto Sison, a Liberal Party candidate.

In 2007, an environmental group asked then Agno Mayor Arthur Cabantac to remove fishing structures in the river, saying these are “incompatible” with the river’s classification, which is for recreation and navigation.

Officials of Agno Concerned Citizens for Ecologically Secured and Sustainable Development (Access) said the cages were illegally operating because the town’s tax ordinance did not provide “any form of taxation for such activity.”

Access leaders said the use of fish feed in the cages would destroy the river’s water quality.

“The unconsumed feed will settle at the bottom of the river … causing pollution and reduction in water depth. Many of us are living victims of flooding,” the group said in a position paper.

But Access’ request fell on deaf ears because even until Cabantac’s death in 2008 and the assumption of Pajeta as mayor, the structures were never removed.

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