While the city sleeps, on the outskirts of Manila, fisherfolks of Sucat, Muntinlupa are already up. These fisherfolks lug their paddles and nets from day to day, supplying the city and nearby towns with freshwater harvest: milkfish, tilapia, big head, knife fish and a lot more.

The fisherfolks of Sucat draw livelihood from a nearby bastion of aquatic life, Laguna de Bay, the largest inland body of water in the Philippines, and a pool of life that has served as the center of the nearby community’s ecosystem. In order to survive, fisherfolks maximize different methods of fishing – setting up fish traps coined as “baklads,” constructing makeshift scoops out of bamboo and net, or by hauling large nets for a greater catch.

A fisherman from Sucat, Muntinlupa clears water from his boat prior heading out the lake to look for his day's catch. (Anjon Galauran)
A fisherman from Sucat, Muntinlupa clears water from his boat prior heading out the lake to look for his day’s catch. (Anjon Galauran)
A sunrise peeks out of the Laguna de Bay's horizon. The Lake, popularly called as "Lawa" serves as a source of livelihood for thousands of families living in the near-lying community. (Chantal Eco)
A sunrise peeks out of the Laguna de Bay’s horizon. The Lake, popularly called as “Lawa” serves as a source of livelihood for thousands of families living in the near-lying community. (Chantal Eco)

But while up front, this thriving fishing community shows no signs of gloom, the thousand-family-strong community is threatened by the fear of displacement and the loss of their livelihood.

Prior the end of the Aquino administration, a long-standing project, the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike, made waves around town. This construction project, popularly known as the “megadike project,” is one of the country’s largest public-private partnership project that aims to create an expressway and a 47-kilometer dike that will stretch along the coastal area of Laguna de Bay and will run from Bicutan, Taguig to Los Banos, Laguna.

While the project boasts of easing traffic flow and mitigating flooding in the area, it drew flak from geologists and the community out of fear of its potential environmental and social impact.

The P123-billion project, in reality, will reclaim 700 hectares west of the Laguna Lake. Experts pointed out that the move could cause an alarming risk of flooding to nearby communities, as diminishing the size of the lake would trap water in a more compact space, hence an increase in the water level. Experts also pointed out that failure of the dike during a catastrophe could lead to a more serious disaster.

Ka Tonyo, 57, a fisherman for 37 years, paddles his makeshift boat to the “Kubo” after an early morning catch in the waters of Laguna de Bay. The Kubo is a hut made of bamboo that serves as a resting stop for fisherfolks of the lake. (Mel Matthew Doctor)
Ka Tonyo, 57, a fisherman for 37 years, paddles his makeshift boat to the “Kubo” after an early morning catch in the waters of Laguna de Bay. The Kubo is a hut made of bamboo that serves as a resting stop for fisherfolks of the lake. (Mel Matthew Doctor)
Fishermen slice their boats through water lilies on the way to the lake. (Joolia Demigillo)
Fishermen slice their boats through water lilies on the way to the lake. (Joolia Demigillo)
Fishermen on a typical morning rounding up fishes they caught using their baklad or fish traps. (Dexter Aserdano)
Fishermen on a typical morning rounding up fishes they caught using their baklad or fish traps. (Dexter Aserdano)
After wooing fishes to their trap, fishermen haul their day's catch to their boat. (Brian Sulicipan)
After wooing fishes to their trap, fishermen haul their day’s catch to their boat. (Brian Sulicipan)
Tatay Ronnie, 57, started fishing when he was seven years old. He continues to depend on the lake to this day for survival. (Chantal Eco)
Tatay Ronnie, 57, started fishing when he was seven years old. He continues to depend on the lake to this day for survival. (Chantal Eco)
Tatay Emil, 50, throws in his day's catch in his makeshift fishpond. Fishing has been his source of livelihood for decades now. And through the profession, he was able to send all three of his children through college. (Anjon Galauran)
Tatay Emil, 50, throws in his day’s catch in his makeshift fishpond. Fishing has been his source of livelihood for decades now. And through the profession, he was able to send all three of his children through college. (Anjon Galauran)
Besides fishing, collecting "tulya" or clams is another source of livelihood for the community. ( Joolia Demigillo)
Besides fishing, collecting “tulya” or clams is another source of livelihood for the community. ( Joolia Demigillo)
Collectors of tulya brave the heat of the sun day in and out. (Joolia Demigillo)
Collectors of tulya brave the heat of the sun day in and out. (Joolia Demigillo)
Nanay Lita wades through thick waterlilies in search of clams on the waterbed. According to her, after a whole day picking clams, she would not even be able to fill her bucket. Clams sell at twenty pesos per cup. (Drestel Galang)
Nanay Lita wades through thick waterlilies in search of clams on the waterbed. According to her, after a whole day picking clams, she would not even be able to fill her bucket. Clams sell at twenty pesos per cup. (Drestel Galang)
While collecting tulya, some members of the community wear a mask to protect them from the searing heat of the sun. A mask can be bought for around 150 pesos. (Leslie Corpuz)
While collecting tulya, some members of the community wear a mask to protect them from the searing heat of the sun. A mask can be bought for around 150 pesos. (Leslie Corpuz)

The community, on the other hand, fears that the reclamation could lead to a series of demolition of homes, as talks about relocation began circling the community during the height of the project’s bidding.

The community reiterated its firm stand that they are for the protection of their homes, livelihood, and the welfare of the lake. They even conducted numerous campaigns, marches, and a fluvial protest to express their disdain.

As of March 2016, however, the project ended in a failed bidding, citing “unresolved project risks.” Bidders, including Ayala Land, Inc., Megaworld Corp., Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Inc., SM Prime Holdings, Inc., San Miguel Holdings Corp., Alloy MTD Capital BHD, Prime Asset Ventures, Inc., and South Korea’s Hanshin Engineering Construction Company Limited, did not pursue with the bidding.

Preisdent Duterte has not manifested strong intentions to pursue the long-standing project. But based on his first State of the Nation Address, the President looks to revive Laguna Lake and transform it into an eco-tourism zone under the helm of his Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, while not setting aside the welfare of small-scale fishermen. But the project may all be the same only with a new name.

On a typical weekend morning, People flock to the shoreline of Laguna de Bay to catch fishes and clams for a living. (Mel Matthew Doctor)
On a typical weekend morning, People flock to the shoreline of Laguna de Bay to catch fishes and clams for a living. (Mel Matthew Doctor)
A view of the community near Laguna de Bay against the backdrop of large condominiums. (Brian Sulicipan)
A view of the community near Laguna de Bay against the backdrop of large condominiums. (Brian Sulicipan)
Homes beside the lake are typically built using "kawayan" (bamboo). (Brian Sulicipan)
Homes beside the lake are typically built using “kawayan” (bamboo). (Brian Sulicipan)
A family in Sucat, Muntinlupa enjoys their siesta despite the pending issue of the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike “megadike” project which threatens both their homes and livelihood. (Mel Matthew Doctor)
A family in Sucat, Muntinlupa enjoys their siesta despite the pending issue of the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike “megadike” project which threatens both their homes and livelihood. (Mel Matthew Doctor)
Nanay Lolita 'Lita' Delfin, 61, lives alone in a simple home without electricity nor proper sewage. She used to fish for a living but now resorts to collecting tulya after her body grew frail due to aging. (Demie Dangla)
Nanay Lolita ‘Lita’ Delfin, 61, lives alone in a simple home without electricity nor proper sewage. She used to fish for a living but now resorts to collecting tulya after her body grew frail due to aging. (Demie Dangla)
A view from the inside of the community thriving near Laguna de Bay. (Rolando Que)
A view from the inside of the community thriving near Laguna de Bay. (Rolando Que)

Regardless of the government’s stand, the community remains vigilant in the protection of the Lake they have called home for decades. And it is their cry that alongside the development of the Laguna Lake, the community’s voice be heard, and their welfare be prioritized.

As a local fisherfolk leader cried, “We are as the fishes of the lake. Take us away from the water, and we cease to live.”

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Residents of Sucat, Muntinlupa living near Laguna de Bay hang banners reiterating their opposition of the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike project that threatens to displace homes and livelihood. (Chantal Eco)
Whether the project will push through or not, the community remains vigilant Their hope: that the government not turn a blind eye to the existence of a thriving community around Laguna Lake. (Chantal Eco)
Whether the project will push through or not, the community remains vigilant. Their hope: that the government not turn a blind eye to the existence of a thriving community around Laguna Lake. (Chantal Eco)
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