Fishers, floods and AquinoBy Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Noynoy Aquino can make a strategic move to save fishers—who are among the poorest in our society—from floods.
If P-Noy declares a National Fisheries Registration Week, it will go a long way in protecting fishers from floods.
A seemingly unrelated incident highlights the importance of this. Two days ago, there was a newspaper report about how all nine members of the Baylon family in Barangay Litex, Quezon City perished because of the August 7 flood. They were in a flood-vulnerable area and about to be moved to a settlement area. Had their move not been delayed, they would not have died.
Unfortunately, fishers are in a worse situation. Thousands are in flood-vulnerable areas. As early as 1998, a Fisheries Law (RA 8550) recognized this and mandated that they be provided settlement areas. For 13 years, this was ignored.
Finally, in December last year, guided by the excellent work of Sarah Bales of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Committee of the National Agriculture Fisheries Council, it was reaffirmed that an interagency body was needed to support the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). It was further recommended that the National Anti-Poverty Council, which includes the Department of Agrarian Reform, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the DA, would spearhead this law’s implementation. This task force had its first meeting only last month, received a P5-million budget, and planned to start implementation this coming December. By that time, the floods will have subsided. But better late than never.
There is a requirement to implement the resettlement project properly: the fishers should first be registered. Registration is also mandated by the Fisheries Law. But of the 1.6 million fishers, only 31,000 have so far been registered.
Last Tuesday, Kilusang Mangingisda convenor Pablo Rosales asked the Alyansa Agrikultura for help in accessing government help. 1,100 of his members from 15 barangays in the National Capital Region alone are in dire need of immediate relief. But since they are not registered, he does not know where to go.
In the case of floods, fisher registration can do two things. First, it can assist fishers get immediate relief after the floods have come. Second, it can facilitate the movement to the settlement areas so that when the floods do come, the fishers are already in safe places. In a more general way, registration allows the fishers to take advantage of the social protection programs P-Noy has strengthened, such as SSS, Philhealth, and even the Cash Transfer Program, which they are largely deprived of.
From an economic development perspective, fishers can more easily organize into cooperatives. They can then achieve economies of scale in purchasing, selling, credit, technology transfer, training and government support services.
Tambuyog Development Center and AF 2025 Fisheries and Aquaculture Committee head Arsenio Tanchuling is not surprised that little action has been taken on fisher registration. BFAR has no clout on its former fisheries extension personnel who have been devolved to the local government units (LGUs). In turn, the LGUs have no systematic structure and procedure for carrying this registration out.
But with the help of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and responsive LGUs, the registration system will be a welcome change for the fishers.
(The author is chairman of Agriwatch.)
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