By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) claimed that eating tilapia lowers a child’s intelligence level.
Fisherfolk organization Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) recently took umbrage over a study made by the LLDA in 2010, which claimed that children living around the 94,000 hectare Laguna Lake have low intelligence quotients (IQ) because they frequently eat “mercury-contaminated” tilapia.
Pamalakaya, the Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) and Anakpawis –Laguna Lake said the LLDA’s study was meant to bolster the Aquino administration’s campaign to auction 54 major projects in Laguna Lake under its private-public partnership program. The government wants to transform the 94,000 hectare lake into an industrial, commercial and eco-tourism hub in Southern Luzon. Total investments for all the projects are projected to reach P 400 billion ($9.3 billion).
Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap slammed the LLDA and what he said was it’s deliberately malicious and misleading study. He said the LLDA’s survey was funded by the World Bank in 2008, and that it was done to bias Filipinos against buying and eating fish from Laguna Lake.
“This has all the makings of a plot to justify the government’s efforts to sell off the lake to private investors and foreign monopoly capitalists,” he said.
Study aims to justify Laguna Lake privatization
According to reports, the LLDA was actually commissioned to do the study and conduct research regarding what was purported to be the dangerous effects of eating tilapia from the Laguna Lake. In its final report, the LLDA said the fish cultured in Laguna Lake like tilapia and milkfish could be contaminated with mercury and other harmful chemicals. It said this was a likely reason for the intelligence deficiency of the pupils who consume the fish.
The LLDA said the element mercury, a neurotic substance, has a significant effect on human intelligence. With the mercury levels found in fish caught in the Laguna Lake, a person consuming it would ingest more than the acceptable limit of 1.6 micrograms per kilo per week set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As per the study, the highest mercury level of the edible parts of fish samples was 5.5 micrograms per kilo, the maximum allowable consumption per week. LLDA officials said if a man with a body weight of 67 kilos consumes less than 0.72 kilo of fish caught in the lake per week, he is actually ingesting 3.9655 micrograms of mercury during the same period.
The agency then went on to warn residents living within the lake’s surroundings to be cautious in eating the fish.
Pamalakaya, however, cited a similar study conducted by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) that stated that heavy metal contents found in fish samples from the lake have passed acceptable standards.
Hicap said that while they will not completely dismiss the allegations of the LLDA, neither will they swallow the same without consulting other experts on the matter.
“We want a second opinion. We cannot just subscribe to the LLDA’s findings given that its motives for coming out with the study are highly questionable and definitely connected to the government’s aim to lease large areas of Laguna lake to profiteers,” he said.
The Pamalakaya leader also went on to insist that the only way to justify the removal of fisherfolk and other agricultural and urban poor residents living around the lake is to declare it unfit for fishing livelihood. He said the fish caught and raised there should first be declared dangerous human consumption, and the surroundings and communities along the bay as danger zones.
The fisherfolk group has long been campaigning against the government’s plans to convert the Laguna lake. It said the government’s PPP projects will effectively reduce, if not eliminate, all fishing activities in the lake. It said that aside from dredging the 94,000 hectare lake, the projects all under the Laguna Lake Master Development Plan include the 100-kilometer ring dike that would cover the lake stretch of Taytay in Rizal, Pateros, Taguig, Muntinlupa and lake towns of Laguna province. Two major water corporations, the Maynilad and Manila Water also want to convert Laguna Lake into a major source of potable water.
It was also reported that the government also wants to reclaim no less than 5,000 hectares of lakeshore in Muntinlupa and Taguig in South Metro Manila to pave the way for the construction of another international airport and high end condominiums.
LLDA manager suspended for graft
In the meantime, suspended LLDA general manager Neric Acosta last week said the agency has still to determine if the findings of a separate study done by the University of Manila that milkfish is also contaminated with mercury has basis.
According to Acosta, the contamination caused by domestic and industrial wasters was a cause of concern for the government. He clarified, however, that the study is not final.
The Sandiganbayan recently imposed a 90-day suspension on Acosta over a graft case. The former congressman was accused of using his pork barrel for projects allegedly owned by his family in Bukidnon.