Rising food prices and dwindling supply are much talked about these days. Rice, meat and fish are the staple and subject of those who are struggling to bring them to the family table. But let’s talk about fish. Like vegetables, fish, as any nutritionist will tell you, is healthier to eat than that fatty pork belly and expensive beef.
The Philippines is a country endowed with rich natural resources. It is an archipelago of 7,107 islands surrounded by bodies of water like the Pacific Ocean on the East and the South China Sea on the West . Both bodies of water are bountiful in marine life, particularly fish. Yet we are importing fish like galunggong from nearby countries like China, Vietnam and Taiwan whose poachers ply our waters.
It is under such a dire situation wherein Buhay Party-List Rep. Lito Atienza sounded off on one of his most ardent advocacies—saving the environment.
“Our seas, river and streams, aside from providing us with safe drinking water, are an abundant source of food. Fish and other edible marine food harvested from our seas can help solve the food scarcity,” said Atienza.
Yet, Atienza said, protecting the environment is not a priority not only under President Duterte but in all previous administrations.
“Instead of protecting and saving the environment as a mission of government, it has been more an omission,” remarked the former Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. His stint as DENR secretary was short because his appointment was made near the end of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s nine-year reign.
“A case in point is the continued deterioration of Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay,” Atienza pointed out. He is saddened that the once-beautiful Manila Bay has become one big receptacle for garbage which washes ashore on Roxas Boulevard whenever there is a storm surge.
Atienza’s other observations: While fish like tilapia, bangus and other species are harvested from Laguna de Bay, these are mainly exported to Japan and even the United States as frozen food for the dollar-rich overseas Filipinos. But very few fish from our oceans reach the Filipino table, Even the lowly galunggong’s price has gone up. Sadly, these are fish caught from our own waters by poachers from nearby countries and then reexported to the Philippines.
But resourceful and creative Filipinos know how to bring down the galunggong’s retail selling price at the local market. Why do you think that rumor about formalin-tainted galunggong spread like wildfire?
A subject that makes the usually mild-mannered Atienza furious is the continued rape of Laguna de Bay. He’s angry that only the rich and powerful are the ones benefitting from the fish bounty in the lake as they shipped the fish harvest abroad for dollar revenues. The small and non-export quality catch are the ones that make it to the local market.
What are the other disastrous consequences of those illegal fish pens in Laguna de Bay? Chemical food are fed the fish to make them fatter and heavier to command higher prices. This means more profit. Not all the powdery foodstuff are eaten by the fish and they stay at the bottom of the lake. The result is that the lake has become shallower to inundate the seaside towns of Laguna. Flood waters in these areas often stay for a month even after it has stopped raining. I know this for a fact as I am from the province of Laguna.
“Laguna de Bay is the largest lake in Asia but it has also become one big fishpen for the rich and powerful,” said Atienza, a former Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources under then-president and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
He also recalled how he used to catch with his bare hands fish like dalag and hito and even the palaka (frogs) from rice paddies. Pampanga folks cook frogs into delicious palakang adobo. Frogs, grenouilles in French, are an expensive delicacy in the menu of expensive restaurants in Paris.
Even our lowly kuhol or snails cultured in rice fields are exported to France for the locals and foreign tourists to feast on as escargots.