Sorsogon fishers ask Leni’s help to stop coastal road proj

By Jam Escandor

Local fishers, residents, and environment advocates in Gubat, Sorsogon have asked the help of Vice President Leni Robredo during her visit in the town on Feb. 9 about the continuation of a coastal road project along the three-kilometer stretch of Kalayukay Beach, which stretches across the villages of Balud del Norte, Cota na Daco, and Cogon.


The grassroots organization Save Gubat Bay Movement (SGBM), consisting of federation of local fishers, crablet raisers, and small-scale seashell pickers, vendors, and environment advocates, strongly decry the project's continuation, which they say is “being implemented without genuine consultation among affected communities, without Environmental Compliance Certificate which could have assessed its impact to marine life and biodiversity”.


The construction of coastal road where the crabs spawn, according to the locals, will pose a huge threat to the natural habitat and surrounding ecosystem, as well as the livelihood of the fishers and crab growers.

HELP US Members of the Save Gubat Bay Movement (SGBM) seek the help of Vice President Leni Robredo to stop the ongoing coastal road construction in Gubat, Sorsogon. Bottom photo shows an excavator piling boulders on Kalayukay beach as part of the road project. (Photos by SGBM & Jam Escandor)


According to the SGBM, the project would only bring major threats to the locals’ livelihood, displace coastal communities and destroy what is left of Gubat Bay.


The coastal road project is being implemented by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and divided into two packages approved under the General Appropriations Act.


The first package has a project cost of P21.9 million for the “Construction of Road Slope Protection Structure – Construction of Balud del Norte-Cota Na Daco-Cogon Coastal Road and Shore Protection” involving road concreting with a length of 0.831 square meter. The second package, worth P 74.6 million involves road slope protection structure covering 2.143 square meters.


The SGBM already raised the issue to the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office in Sorsogon, Gubat municipal government, National Economic Development Authority, Environmental Management Bureau, and the Department of Budget and Management as early as Dec. 2, 2021. They sent a follow up letter on Jan. 26, 2022 but no action was taken by the said agencies to their complaint.


Jesus Fideliaga, one of the SGBM leaders, said that the project threatens to block the access of locals and fisherfolks from the their villages to the sea.


He said the Kalayukay side of Gubat Bay is one of the few beaches that remain free to the public. Most parts of the bay in other coastal barangays of Gubat are now either privatized or already paved.


More than being a public access to the sea, he added that the coastal road only brought harm than good to the coastal communities as evidence in the first constructed coastal road along barangays of Balud del Sur, Pinontingan, and Panganiban, also in Gubat, which only worsened the flooding during heavy downpour, since the natural waterways are now blocked.


Fideliaga further said that instead of wasting public funds on concreting beaches, the national government should redirect their activities to mangrove reforestation in order to address the threats of storm surges.


“That’s besides the fact that the livelihood of more than a thousand fishers and crab growers from different barangays depend on the sea. If a coastal road is erected along the bay, it will only disturb the natural habitat and thriving biodiversity in the area,” he said.


According to the data from the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office of Gubat, the area surrounding the beach is composed of a vast and rich ecosystem, covered with 1,613 hectares of sea grasses, 551.49 hectares of mangrove forest, and 1,355.60 hectares of coral reefs.


Various kinds of endemic sea creatures and resources thrive along its biodiversity including parrot fish (locally referred to as angol, rabbit fish (danggit), swordfish (bugiw), and blue marlin tuna or malasugi on some occasions, and various types of seashells. Different species of crabs that are endemic in the town such as the blue king crab also abound in the area.


“In fact, small-scale and medium-scale distributors from other provinces would outsource the majority of juvenile crabs from crab-raisers of Gubat especially from barangays Cota na Daco and Cogon,” he said.


Fideliaga stressed the need for a comprehensive study of the necessity as well as the social and environmental impact of the said project before its implementation.


Not part of LGU plans


In an interview with Gubat Mayor Sharon Rose G. Escoto, she said that the project is “not included in any of the major planning documents of Gubat—Annual Investment Program, Comprehensive Development Plan, and Comprehensive Land Use Plan.”


“In fact, LGU-Gubat is committed to preserving its environment and its natural resources, as it envisions itself as a center of agro-ecotourism whose base is coastal tourism. There is no way it would willfully destroy its natural resources, from which many of its constituents draw their food and income from,” Escoto said.


In line with this, Escoto said that they have written the Department of Tourism and the DPWH to take into consideration the LGU’s proposed municipal multi-species hatchery, proposed tourism development and the proposed declaration of the coast along Cogon (including Kalayukay Beach) as a sustainable tourism area based on the 2021-2029 Comprehensive Land Use Plan.


Moreover, Escoto also expressed concerns about the implementation of the coastal road project and she urged the contractor to conform with existing national and local laws including environmental and social safeguards.


Seeking Leni’s help


During Vice President Leni Robredo’s visit in Gubat, Sorsogon on Feb. 9, SGBM members staged a mini-rally asking for Robredo’s help in their fight for the protection of the beach and their livelihood.


They said that they believe in Robredo’s environment and agri-fisheries advocacies that are being envisioned to uplift the lives of the grassroots sector.


With the support from 1Sambayan-Sorsogon, SGBM solicited the help of Robredo to redirect the project into one that would prioritize people’s genuine socio-economic needs, create viable fisherfolk livelihood programs, and establish a more sustainable and effective disaster response systems.

On-going piling of boulders along Kalayukay beach in Barangay Cota na Daco (Photo: Jam Escandor)


They said that Robredo is their only hope as they have already been ignored countless times by local politicians and concerned national government agencies, claimed Rofe Doncillo, a SGBM member.


They are making the indigent people’s situation more miserable. We have spent sleepless nights worrying what will happen when they build that coastal road. The rich already have everything; they should leave the sea to the poor, Doncillo said.


Meanwhile, Fideliaga said that they are determined to protect their source of livelihood as many people including the government officials do not understand their plights or even empathize with them.


“Some people find solace at a glimpse of the sea and the sound of the rolling waves after a long, tiring day of rat race. But to a fisherman who had to sell his catch for a can of sardines, the sea is his life and limb," Fideliaga added.