By ROBERT GREGORY ELARDO AND AIRA MARIE E. SIGUENZA
MANILA – Fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) is challenging national and local candidates to heed their most urgent demands.
The fisherfolk group engages in dialogues with LGUs and the national government to protect small-scale fishers, especially now that the country is facing a health and socio-economic crisis.
“Many fishermen lost their jobs because of the long lockdown,” Pamalakaya Chairperson Fernando Hicap said.
Because of the lousy and continuous downplaying of the pandemic response of the Philippine government, small fisherfolk either lost their jobs or worked harder than before.
With the harassment of Chinese vessels, small fisherfolk–many of whom suffer scarcity of income– became more scared of the threat of the pandemic.
Hicap said that the only help they have acquired is the P3,000 ($59.45) from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), however, not all were given and it is not enough to sustain the needs of the fisherfolk.
Along with the strict rules and militaristic response to COVID-19 that hinder small fisherfolk from earning enough income, additional necessary expenses like the budget for health, oil price hike, and the cost for maintenance of their tools and equipment cause further suffering to one of the poorest sectors.
“The effect of increasing prices of products and having no permanent income is a tendency to experience hunger. If we can cook rice before, now we can only make lugaw (rice congee). We need to work much harder to make ends meet,” Hicap said.
Because of the oil price hike, the fishermen need to allot another P200/day ($3.96) for fuel for their fishing operations. Aside from this, traders from the cities have been asking the local fishermen to lower the price of the fish they sell to compensate for their travel expenses. Because of this, they have no choice but to sell the products at a much lower price, leaving little for their daily needs. Consequently, fish with increased prices decreased in demand.
The call of small fisherfolk is simple: P15,000 economic-subsidy to help them recover their lost income because of Covid-19, typhoons, equipment losses, property destruction, and oil price hike.
Pamalakaya-Pilipinas also calls to stop all reclamations, offshore mining, and other projects that are destructive to aquatic resources.
“If we do not rehabilitate aquatic life, soon the fishes won’t be enough,” they said.
Reclamation projects that destroy the ecosystem
Despite policies supposedly mandated to “sustain the aquatic resources of the Philippines and protect the Filipino fisherfolk,” Hicap stated large-scale companies are the ones to be blamed for its destructive and harmful waste management.
“The LGUs and the national government’s reclamation projects are the ones who caused destruction to the fisheries. It destroys mangrove areas, coral reefs, seagrasses, and the ecological balance of these fisheries,” he said.
“For instance, San Miguel Corporation’s aerotropolis in Bulacan and the ongoing excavations in Rosario and Tanza where mud and sand are dug and dumped in waters where the corals live. Because of this, the corals die,” he added.
Hicap also blamed the Duterte administration’s approval of offshore mining that deeply affected the environment in spite of petitions just like in the Lingayen Gulf.
“If the mining continues, the environment will be totally destroyed,” he said.
Lingayen Gulf is one of the major fishing grounds in the Philippines covering 2,064 square kilometers of water, surrounded by the towns of Agoo, Alaminos, Anda, Aringay, Bani, Bauang, Binmaley, Bolinao, Caba, Dagupan, Labrador, Lingayen, Rosario, San Fabian, San Fernando (La Union), Santo Tomas, and Sual.
The destruction of Lingayen Gulf’s ecosystem will threaten the livelihood and food security of small-scale fisherfolk in the area.
Chinese Presence In West PH Sea
“The worst policy Duterte has made is to allow the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea,”Hicap said.
Small-scale Filipino fisherfolk have continuously been bullied by the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea while the Philippine government seems to turn a blind eye.
In June 2019, Duterte—seemingly unaware of the existence of diplomatic talks—downplayed the Chinese sinking of a Philippine boat by saying it is a ‘maritime incident’ and stated that the Philippines will not go to war over the West Philippine Sea issue risking the ‘massacre of the Filipinos.’
In July of the same year, Duterte said he allowed Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea to shield the country from conflict, saying he did not violate the constitution and the sovereignty of the Philippines.
“This is treason,” Ka Pando said. “Duterte has no action in China’s continuous claim on the West Philippine Sea because he himself does not acknowledge the 2016 arbitral ruling.”
On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal adjudicating the Philippines’ case against China in the West Philippine Sea ruled in favor of the Philippines, determining that major elements of China’s claim—including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation activities, and other activities in Philippine waters—were unlawful. China reacted negatively and dismissed the ruling as ‘null and void’.
In November 2021, Chinese vessels fired a water cannon to a Philippine boat en route to Ayungin (Second Thomas Shoal). The Philippine government abhorred the act saying it does not speak well between our nations and their partnership. The European Union – one of the primary beneficiaries of the West Philippine Sea’s aquatic resources – condemned the act, saying it endangered peace, security, and stability in the region and the international rules-based order.
Up until now, Filipino fisherfolks are still threatened with the Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea, despite the arbitral ruling.
Hicap challenged the presidentiables to drive Chinese vessels away from the West Philippine Sea and to make China pay for damages they caused in the sea’s aquatic life.
“The import-dependent, export-oriented policies should also come to an end,” Hicap asserted.
Despite the ongoing threats of Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea and the damages faced both by the country’s aquatic resources and the small-time fisherfolk, Hicap claimed that “there is still time to rehabilitate.”