After a year of living on the streets, Balakbakan fisherfolk want to return to their homes.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Six hundred fisherfolk families are fighting to return to their coastal community in Batangas province, a year after they were violently evicted.
Residents of sitio (subvillage) Balakbakan, Laiya village in San Juan town had been living on the streets in Malabrigo village since their homes were demolished on July 3 last year.
The eviction of the Balakbakan community followed a court order ruling in favor of Federico Campos III who claims ownership of the lands and had charged the residents with forcible entry.
On June 9, some residents came to Manila with other Batangas peasant and fisherfolk who trooped to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to ask government to put a halt to the privatization of the coastal lands, which, they said, had caused displacement of communities.
Elsie Lucero, vice chairperson of Haligi ng Batangenyong Anakdagat (Habagat), said that not only were their homes destroyed, even their livelihood had been affected.
Fisherfolk were barred from docking their boats in the area, Lucero said. “They even encroached on the sea,” she said.
Lucero said the court disregarded the fact that many residents have lived in the community for decades.
“I am a fourth generation resident of Balakbakan,” Lucero said. “My family have lived for more than a century in the place,” she said. Lucero said the length of their stay on the land actually makes them “de facto” owners.
The area is reportedly being developed as a resort.
The Balakbakan community has also appealed to the local government units, the Department of Justice and civil society organizations to help them return to the area.
Lucero said they had been offered a relocation site, but they refused because the site is some three kilometres from the sea, far from their source of livelihood.
The Balakbakan fisherfolk joined peasants from the towns of Lobo, Nasugbu, Calatagan, Balayan and other Batangas towns.
They also asked the DENR and the Environmental Management Bureau to reject the application for large-scale mining of the MRL Gold-Egerton Inc., which threatens the conservation areas and marine sanctuaries in Lobo and the Verde Island Passage.
Gigi Bautista, of the Samahan ng Magbubukid ng Batangas (Sambat), said their groups are protesting Proclamation 1520, which had declared the whole Batangas coastline, from its Cavite to Quezon boundaries, as an industrial and ecotourism zone.
Bautista said the proclamation had triggered the privatization, landgrabbing and land conversion of farming and fishing communities.