By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — About 20 boats from Navotas and Cavite converged in a fluvial protest in Manila Bay here in celebration of the World Fisheries Day on Nov. 21. Protesting fishers denounced the reclamation of Manila Bay, soon to be converted into a commercial and business park. They also called for the overhaul of the Fisheries Code of 1998, which has caused undue burden to small local fishers.
Police and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), however, barred the fluvial protest, as they demanded permit to hold the mass action, led by the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Pamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya). Police claimed tight security is still imposed around the Cultural Complex of the Philippines, days after the Asean summit ended.
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As an international celebration, the World Fisheries Day is supposed to serve as a reminder of the importance of marine life and ecosystem. For the fisher folk in the Philippines, however, it is also a reminder of their fight for genuine social reforms for the benefit of their livelihood.
“We gather today to assert our right to our fishing waters and call for the scrapping of the National Reclamation Plan,” said Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya national chairperson and former Anakpawis representative.
“It is not too late to rehabilitate and bring back the natural ecosystem of Manila Bay; instead of spending billions on floating commercial and business districts, why not revive and develop the destroyed mangroves and corals of Manila Bay to let marine species thrive,” Hicap said in a statement
The groups were supposed to have a meeting with Senator Sonny Angara in the Senate to explain the plight of the fishers. However, after being stalled by the PCG and the Manila Police District (MPD) for an hour, the fisher folk settled to having a short program along Roxas Boulevard.
“2009, nagfu-fluvial na kami dito. Walang nagaganap na harang. Paano namin maipaparating sa aming mga senador ang aming mga hinaing bilang isang mangingisda kung haharangin niyo kami? Bagyo, init — ito na ang kalagayan ng mga mangingisda. Sabi ko, imbes na maiparating sa gobyernong ito ang problema namin mga mangingisda na dapat kaming tulungan, ito ang inabot namin — harang,” Myrna Candinato, Vice Chaiperson of Alyansa ng Mandaragat sa Cavite and member of PAMALAKAYA-Cavite said.
(Since 2009, we have been holding fluvial protests here and no one has ever blocked our way. How can we let our senators know our grievances if the PCG will only block us all the time? Come rain or shine, this is the condition of the lives of our fisher folk. Instead of helping us deliver our grievances to the government, this is what you do to us – you block our way.)
The MPD said the protesters were not allowed to dock in Roxas Boulevard because they did not have a permit. Protesters tried to negotiate with the police to allow the fluvial parade, but the latter rejected their appeals, saying that they were still on high alert because of the Asean, although the summit already ended last week.
Hicap decried the harassment of fisher folk by state agents, calling it “fascism in the sea.” Instead of protecting the fisher folk, the PCG now serves as “an instrument of giant developers and capitalists,” he said.
Candinato said the Cavite contingent also felt threatened because the PCG brought firearms with them during the negotiation.
“Instead of mobilizing their troops in West Philippine Sea to defend our contested exclusive economic zones, the PCG is out there in Manila Bay, harassing Filipino fishermen like what the Chinese personnel has been doing to us in Scarborough Shoal. The PCG can only pick on small fisherfolk, but they are afraid to flex their muscles toward the giant bullies and foreign aggressors like China,” Hicap said in a statement.
Salvador France, Pamalakaya-Pilipnas secretary general, said they want the Duterte administration and other foreign governments to hear the fisher folk, who are struggling for the interest of the whole nation.
“Ang malungkot dito, mga kasama, ay 26,000 kabahayan sa Navotas at sa mga kalapit na barangay, sila ay mapapalayas dahil lang doon sa pagtatayo ng business park. Ang tanong namin dito sa aming gobyerno, ito ba ang tinatawag na kaunlaran o business park sa Navotas — kasama ba kaming mga mangingisda? Sa palagay namin, hindi kami kasama,” he said.
(What is sad about this is 26,000 homes in Navotas and nearby communities will be demolished because of the establishment of a business park. The question is, for whose interest is this so-called development or business park in Navotas — are we, fisher folk, included? We do not think so.)