Rich Resources, Poor Protection; Poverty Amidst Wealth: The Philippine Fisheries Resources And The Filipino Fisherfolks
Privilege Speech of Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, AKBAYAN Partylist
Delivered on May 30, 2011 / Plenary Hall, House of Representatives
Mga ginagalang kong kapwa mambabatas, magandang gabi sa inyong lahat. Today, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege, to speak on behalf of one of the poorest sectors of our society, the Filipino fisherfolks. It is an opportune time to raise the concerns of the fisherfolks of our country today as we are already at the tail-end of the month of May, which was declared as Ocean Month by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 57 series of 1999.
As an archipelago, the Philippines has an estimated 2.2 million square kilometres of sea and around 18,000 kilometers of coastline. It is blessed with abundant marine and aquatic resources that are rich in bio-diversity and value. Our seas, rivers and lakes are among our country’s coveted wealth that has made us among the world’s largest 40 fish producing countries. In fact, we have been in the honor roll in terms of the world’s production of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and aquatic plants where we ranked 8th in 2003 and in 2006, and our lowest is rank 14 in 1997.
Our marine and aquatic resources provide livelihood to more than 2 million Filipinos, a significant section of our population. The total population residing in coastal areas was estimated at around 43 million in 2005.
Fisheries also play a significant role in our economy as one of the main components of agriculture. Data show that fisheries contribute around 4.3% of our GDP and 18% of the gross-value added. It is also one of the Filipinos’ main sources of food, second only to rice. With an annual per capita consumption of 28.5 kilos, it comprise between 50-60% of our source of protein.
Rich resources, poor protection
Last week, the news about the destruction of a coral reef complex five (5) times the size of Manila hogged the headlines. According to news reports this large scale destruction was caused by poachers who harvested 21,000 pieces of black coral and killed 161 endangered turtles and other marine life. This shocking news is just but the tip of the iceberg. According to the 25-year Comprehensive National Fisheries Industry Development Plan out of the 27,000 square kilometres of coral reefs, over 70% are in poor state. Only 5% are in excellent condition.
In 1914, we have around 450,000 hectares of mangroves, however, only a mere 140,000 hectares in 1994. Mangroves are important feeding sites for many commercially important fish species. These mangroves forests have been decimated by the construction of fishponds. The proliferation of fishponds not only affected the state of our mangrove forests which is an important ecosystem, it also brought other problems such as pollution brought about by the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and overfeeding. Our inland waters are also experiencing this same problem which is one of the main causes of fish kills.
Our country’s poor protection of our fisheries resources has far-reaching and devastating effects. These include the degradation of our marine biodiversity, which is one of the world’s richest. Akin to the destruction of our marine ecosystem is the rapid depletion of our fish stocks. Also a substantial contributor to this decline is overfishing and the prevalence of commercial fishing which uses efficient and destructive fishing technologies. These vessels are so effective that the extraction of fish products exceed the capacity of nature to reproduce. In fact even the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has said that most of the fishing vessels have twice the capacity to extract what oceans can sustainably produce.
Poverty amidst wealth
In contrast with the wealth of the Philippine fisheries resources is the state of poverty of the Filipino fisherfolk communities. With a poverty incidence of over 60%, Filipino fisherfolks are the poorest among the poor. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board, (2006), the poorest fisherfolk communities are found in the CARAGA Region, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Bicol Region. The annual population growth rate in coastal areas is 2.26 percent. The continuing population increase in fishing communities is a significant factor in resource degradation in the Philippines.
Among the major problems confronting the fisherfolk sector is the issue of tenurial security. More than 60% of people residing in coastal areas are in danger of eviction. These are due to either their residential areas are at risks of strong wave surges and typhoons or being claimed by private individuals. Traditional routes to fishing grounds, areas for seaweed and fish drying are being privatized and commercialized resulting to displacement of municipal fisherfolks. These are significantly documented in the CALABARZON Region by the NGOs for Fisheries Reform (NFR).
Employment for fisherfolks is primarily generated from aquaculture. But full enjoyment of benefits is not derived by the main producers but those who have the needed capital to engage in aquaculture and mariculture. At present, there are more than 50 mariculture parks in the country.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
In the midst of all these problems, what can be done? Let me cite to you several of the recommendations of the NGOs for Fisheries Reform:
- Pass the National Land Use and Management Act that will rationalize the utilization of land and water resources. Under this Act, Coastal Zoning and Resource Management Plan are essential in identification and utilization of marine protected areas, productive fishing grounds, fisherfolk settlement, among others.
- Sign an Executive Order on the Establishment of Task Force Fisherfolk Settlement. Several fisherfolk representatives from the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) already pushed for the signing of the E.O. under the past and present administration that will address the need of the sector for decent human settlement. It was also endorsed by the National Agriculture and Fishery Council-Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (NAFC-CFA), a private-sector led consultative arm of DA.
- Provide sufficient budget allocation for the implementation of the Comprehensive National Fishery Industry Development Plan (CNFIDP), which is the 25-year development plan initiated by the DA-BFAR by virtue of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The CNFIDP contains several programs that are of interest to municipal fisherfolks. These include comprehensive capability building program for the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (FARMCs) and local government units of more than 900 coastal municipalities in the Philippines, provision of sustainable livelihood and rehabilitation and protection of coastal and marine ecosystems, among others.
- Provide mechanism to ensure that 40% of all management structures, both national and local, should be represented by women fisherfolks as stipulated in R.A. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women. The contribution of women fisherfolks in the management and development of coastal and marine resources have gone unnoticed. Consequently, mechanisms to address both the productive and reproductive needs of women fisherfolks have been wanting. It is high time that their voices in management structures and development councils should be heard as they are also part of the backbone of the fishing industry.
- Instruct DA-BFAR and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in coordination with LGUs to conduct vulnerability risk assessment of coastal communities and providing necessary funds thereof. The 4th Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) clearly stipulated that low lying regions particularly in tropical and coastal communities will be adversely affected by sea-level rise and temperature increase, phenomena that are closely attributed to climate change. The level of risk and vulnerabilities to climate change of low lying coastal communities in the Philippines are unknown. This is very alarming since the country has been experiencing extreme weather events for the past several months. We need the necessary data to manage risks and minimize damages brought about by typhoons and droughts that have negative effects to critical ecosystems manifested in increase in the number of cases on coral bleaching, loss in marine biodiversity, among others;
- Declare foreshore areas, buffer zones and salvage zones as public domain. We would like to call your attention to the seeming virtual privatization and commercialization of foreshore areas in the country. The increase in the number of private beach resorts and recreational areas are putting too much pressure to the productivity and social cohesion of coastal communities. Many fishing communities are being dislocated due to these trends.
- Instruct the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to provide assistance to LGUs on the completion of municipal water delineation. Based on the 2009 data of the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), there are more than 900 coastal municipalities that have completed their municipal water delineation. Unfortunately, only 30 of these municipalities have passed their ordinances on municipal water delineation. We believe that the delineation process will facilitate the resolution of boundary conflicts among and between contiguous municipalities thus improve resource management. We urge you then to instruct the DILG to provide technical assistance in validation and joint delineation of municipalities with territorial conflicts.
- Wholesale amendments of Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 is unacceptable. A thorough assessment of the implementation of the Code should first be conducted.
- A strategic poverty-alleviation program should be designed and implemented for the fisherfolks.
- Instead of focusing public investment to aquaculture and mariculture, the government should focus more on resource management given that the Philippines is a resource-dependent economy. If the conditions of resources have improved, most likely income from fishing will also improve.
Mga kasama ko sa kongresong ito, isang mahalagang usapin ng kaunlaran ang mga usapin sa pangisdaan. Isa ito sa pinakamahalagang yaman ng atin bansa at sakop nito ang malaking bahagi ng ating populasyon. Bilang tugon sa pagtatapos ng selebrasyon ng Ocean Month, bigyan natin ng tugon ang hamon ng ating mga maliliit na mangingisda. Maraming salamat po at at muli, magandang gabi.