PH lawmakers urged to probe colleague on eco-zone project

By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Katrina Heredera

MANILA, Philippines- A group of small fisherfolk in the Philippines had asked members of the Philippine parliament to investigate the role of their colleague on the ambitious free port project in Central Luzon ,which it said is inimical to people’s interest.

Leaders of the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) went to the Philippine Senate yesterday to personally deliver its letter of appeal to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to have Senator Edgardo Angara investigated on the controversial Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Free Port Project (Apeco) in Casiguran, Aurora province.
Pamalakaya vice chairperson for Luzon Salvador France also furnished copies of their letter of appeal to the Senate President to Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, Francis ‘Kiko” Pangilinan, Gregorio Honasan and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

In their two-page letter of appeal to Enrile, the militant group said the affected farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people of Aurora province urge honorable office of the Senate President to conduct a thoroughgoing investigation on the life-threatening impacts of Apeco project to these sectors.
“Honorable Senate President, the APECO project is a total menace to the rights to land of the farmers, even fisherfolk and other sectors residing on the affected barangays of Casiguran. If not stopped, this project might lead to the whole destruction of Casiguran and nearby towns in Aurora province,” France said in the appeal.

The letter further reads: “The APECO project is the brainchild of Senator Edgardo Angara, his son Rep. Sonny Angara and the senator’s sister Aurora Gov. Bella Angara-Castillo and they should be blamed for the current chaos and chronicles of land grabbing in the Casiguran.”
According to a report filed by organizers of a recent fact-finding mission held in Casiguran from June 22-25, the Apeco project also affected farmers include those who have actual titles like Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) and Integrated Social Forestry certificates (ISF).

“Mr. Senate President please take into account that generations of farmers have been cultivating lands under President Manuel Quezon’s Proclamation 467 and Proclamation 723 of Governor-general Frank Murphy during the American occupation, and they too are objects of landgrabbing and displacement,” Pamalakaya noted.

According to the group, to fast track the eviction of farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous communities opposed to Apeco project, the proponents employ the military under the 48th Infantry Battalion, Bravo Company to harass the opposition to Apeco and create a culture of fear among the residents. The military base in barangay halls and blend with residents to serve their purpose for Apeco project.

Pamalakaya said a case in point took place in Brgy. Esteves, where a PENRO’s official known as Miña harassed an elderly peasant woman when he arrived with armed police on February 10, 2010 and coerced farmer residents to vacate their farms. Miña also poked a gun at a woman on March 11, 2008 at Brgy. Dibet.

“The military elements also harassed upland farmers at Brgy. Cozo on September 27, 2010. Farmers also believe that some of their barangay officials, particularly Brgy. Cozo and Esteves are being intimidated by APECO officials thus, abdicating to help those threated to be displaced,” the group said.
The national fact finding mission which Pamalakaya joined last month had reported that residents from the 5 barangays are usually opposing the APECO project. Some residents such as in Brgy. San Ildefonso and Culat said they are not familiar with the project as there were no consultations held before the enactment of the law and they oppose it as they concern about their sources of livelihood such as their farms and fishing.

“We are willing to provide more information about the impacts of the projects, and the leaders and residents of affected farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people are willing to come out in the open and testify on the increasing difficulties they suffered once the Senate approves the call for the investigation of the Apeco project,” said Pamalakaya.

The militant group said the project is being rushed by the proponents led by the Angara family as indicated by the recent action of the Aurora office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) where the agency pursued a P 418-million peso worth of construction and road projects to pave way for Apeco project which it said is the ambitious project of the ruling Angara dynasty in the province.

Pamalakaya asserted the DPWH-Aurora is set to complete infrastructure projects necessary to jumpstart the free port project in Aurora. The group said the P 418-M funds allocated by DPWH in Aurora was meant to complete 71 projects and the completion of 9.16 kilometers of national roads that include the Baler-Cemento Road, the San Luis-Maria-Aurora-Castaneda road and the Baler-Dicolayungan road.

The group noted that the P 418-million Apeco driven projects were carry-overs of previous projects which were unfinished in 2009 and were continued in 2010. There were 66 carry-over projects, 26 were completed, 17 still ongoing and 23 are yet to be started. #

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Fishers oppose Cebu reclamation

By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Vince Cinches

CEBU CITY, Philippines- Fisherfolk activists belonging to the militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and its provincial chapter Pamana-Sugbo today declared war against the planned reclamation of 132 hectares of coastal waters in Cordova, Cebu.

In a joint press statement, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap and Pamana-Sugbo chairperson Victor Lapaz assailed Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia for pursuing the project which they said was grossly detrimental to the livelihood rights of small fishermen and highly inimical to marine environment.

“Governor Garcia wants to earn more money for the powerful elite of the province through reclamation at the expense of small fisherfolk and the people’s environment. The marginalized people are being sacrificed at the altar of Cebu’s bogus blueprint for development,” the two Pamalakaya leaders noted.

Citing a recent study conducted by scientists from the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) on the effects of the P1-billion reclamation project in mainland Aklan’s jump-off point to Boracay Island, Hicap and Lapaz said that the project could alter the ecological balance and marine life in Cordova and Cebu coastal waters.

“Despite the warning made by UP scientists on the impact of reclamation, the Gov. Garcia and Mayor Sitoy are still adamant to pursue this project.They don’t care about its negative effects on the livelihood and other social rights of the fishing communities and its direct assault to the fragile marine environment of Cordova and the whole island province,” they added.

Reports said phase 1 of the the 132-hectare reclamation project of Cordova town in Mactan Island is ongoing. The town’s mayor Adelino Sitoy is optimistic this project would increase the economic activity of the town once development begins.

Mayor Sitoy said Phase 1 would cover 10 hectares and cost about P80 million. The blessing of the site, which will be attended by gov. Garcia on August 14. The local government said it would aggressively look for commercial investments once the Phase I is completed.

The Provincial Planning and Development Office had amended its existing Environmental Certificate Clearance (ECC) on that area. Instead of having 10-hectare reclamation, they will extend it to 20 hectares. Mayor Sitoy claimed proponents are still processing the necessary permits and clearance for the other areas of the 132 hectares to be reclaimed.

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Tarlac city execs back Luisita farm workers

TARLAC CITY, PHILIPPINES- The regional farmers group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Amgl, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon) and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) commend the Tarlac city council for passing a resolution rejecting the referendum or forcing the farmworkers to choose “stocks” or land distribution and supporting the clamor of distribution of Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers.

On Resolution No. 293, adopted on July 14, 2011, the 12-member city council led by vice mayor Miguel A Tañedo, stated that though they welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to revoke the stock distribution plan (SDP) implemented in Hacienda Luisita “we view with concern the modification contained in the same decision which states that the farm worker-beneficiaries ‘shall have the option to remain as stock holders of Hacienda Luisita Inc.;” and “referendum will only obfuscate the real objective of land reform which is to give land to the tillers;”

The Tarlac city council recognized the farmworkers demand for genuine land reform and junking of the referendum. City councilor Emily L. Facunla personally delivered a copy to Ambala at their camp-out at Brgy. Balite. Councilor Facunla is the sister of councilor Abel Ladera who was killed on March 3, 2005, a supporter of the striking farmworkers and the 2nd victim of extra-judicial killings that followed the infamous “Hacienda Luisita Massacre.”

“The farmworkers are very happy with the visit of councilor Facunla, especially when she expressed support of the ‘bungkalan’ (bungkalan). She is the first government official, aside from the barangay officials, who visited the camp-out,” said Fidel Castro, Amgl vice-chairperson who is regularly staying at camp-out. Ambala who occupied the lands fenced by Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) at Brgy. Balite since July 15 is on the fifth day of preparing the land for cultivation. They have surveyed more than 10-hectares of 1-hectare parcels and used tractors to plow the land.

The group said that RCBC fenced about 184-hectares of land, planned to be converted as an industrial park for Japanese companies. Amgl said that RCBC could not purchase the land without knowing they are under dispute and added that they should resolve their problem with the Cojuangco-Aquinos and not prohibit the farmworkers who are the legitimate owners of the land. “If Ambala farmworkers do not cultivate these lands now, these would only be converted and the opportunity to produce food in Hacienda Luisita would be minimized.

The bungkalan is a historical action of the farmworkers as Hacienda Luisita lands are on the brink of being converted as what the Cojuangco-Aquinos intend to do,” Castro said. Ambala said that they are on the stage of finalizing the list of beneficiaries of the land and after doing so, they expect that the farmworkers would immediately work on their land. The group said that “bungkalan” would certainly give them source of food and livelihood, a total contrast when lands used to be cultivated with sugarcane. Amgl and Ambala said that they would lead a regional protest in Tarlac City on July 21, where at least a thousand farmworkers would come out to be joined by farmers from different provinces.

On the next day, they would proceed in Manila to file the motion for reconsideration at the Supreme Court and participate at the Inter-faith rally sponsored by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). “We invite the different sectors to witness and participate in the bungkalan. This is a historical event as these lands used to be under Spanish colonial control and Cojuangcos feudal rule for almost 50 years. This is the liberation of the land, the would eventually serve the interest of the people, not by a rich few,” Castro said. #

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Transport militants ready strike in Southern Tagalog for Aquino’s 2nd SONA

By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Handog Malaya Vera

MANILA, Philippines-(UPDATE) STARTER, the regional chapter of the militant transport group PISTON is gearing for a one day transport strike and protest against unstoppable increases in the prices of petroleum products.

STARTER-PISTON chairperson Rolando Mingo said the transport strike in Southern Tagalog is timed on the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) which President Benigno Simeon Aquino III will deliver by mid afternoon on Monday next week.

“The transport strike in the region showcases the wholesale condemnation and disgust of the people and the transport sector against the Aquino government which perpetually connives with oil giants in exploiting the people and the poor transport sector,” according to a statement furnished to all voices.
As preview to the upcoming transport strike, members of STARTER-PISTON and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Timog Katagalugan (Bayan-TK) staged demonstrations in the main offices of the reigning oil cartel– Shell, Chevron and Petron in Makati City.

Bayan-TK Secretary General XL Fuentes noted that last July 12, oil firms led by the Big Three jacked up prices of gasoline by P 2 per liter and 90 centavos for kerosene and diesel.
The Bayan leader added that the recent hike in the prices of the petroleum products is the 19th under the Aquino administration. Fuentes said the intermittent increases in the prices of oil products further compounded the problem of unemployment and poverty.

The militant group asserted current prices of petroleum products are overpriced by an average of P 8 per liter, but Aquino refused to correct this monopolistic and fraudulent practice of oil firms. It also lamented the President Aquino remains hardline and pro-cartel and still refuses to remove the 12 percent expanded value added tax (EVAT) levied on oil.

Bayan-TK said unemployment rate remains at all time high of 11 percent, while not less than 15 percent of the total population are experiencing extreme poverty.

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NPA asked AFP: Where’s Jonas Burgos?

By Franklin Roosevelt Dimaguiba and John Lloyd Hoffman in Tacloban City
and Gerry Albert Corpuz and Trinity Biglang Awa in Manila.
MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) joined the family and friends of abducted peasant activist Jonas Burgos in asking the Armed Forces of the Philippines to surface the missing activist, after the Philippine high court ordered the military to free Burgos in a decision issued last week.
The AFP promised to cooperate with the investigation on the Burgos abduction case, but still maintained that the abducted activist is not in their custody despite damning evidence leading to military elements’ principal role in the enforced disappearance of the Bulacan-based peasant activist.
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) had condemned the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for refusing to release peasant activists Burgos, Karen Empeño, Sherlyn Cadapan and Manuel Merino despite the Supreme Court’s issuance of a habeas corpus order directing the military to produce them in court.
The families and colleagues of these missing activists had filed criminal cases against their abductors and are optimistic the Supreme Court ruling would beef up their case against former President Arroyo, Palparan and other military officials implicated in the abduction of Burgos and other activists.

“The AFP’s refusal to heed the decisions of the Supreme Court shows its continuing contempt for human rights,” said the CPP. “It has given the Supreme Court a virtual slap-in-the-face through a simple denial of custody of Burgos, et.al, despite overwhelming evidence showing the direct responsibility of AFP officials and personnel in the abductions”, according to a statement issued by CPP, a copy of which was sent to all voices.com.

In successive decisions this month, the Supreme Court ordered the AFP to release the missing activists after finding credible the evidence presented by the families of Burgos, Empeño, Cadapan and Merino which point to AFP units under the 56th Infantry Battalion as responsible for the abduction and enforced disappearance of the peasant activists.

Burgos was abducted by several armed personnel in 2007 while having lunch in a mall in Quezon City. He was forced into a waiting vehicle whose plate number was later determined to belong to a vehicle in the custody of the 56th IB. A witness was able to identify Maj. Harry Baliaga Jr. as “the principal abductor”. Baliaga, an Army First Lieutenant at the time of the abduction, belongs to the 56th IB.

Empeño, Cadapan and Merino were abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan by elements of 24th Infantry Battalion in February 2006. According to Raymond Manalo, who was also abducted by the military but later escaped, he met the three activists incarcerated in a dungeon inside Camp Tecson in San Miguel, Bulacan. He was able to confer with the three who related their ordeals of torture and rape in the hands of the AFP. Manalo said that while in custody, he was confronted by Gen. Jovito Palparan, who issued veiled threats against him.

The CPP said that the military’s “refusal to rectify its fascist crimes under the Arroyo regime show the hypocrisy of its so-called advocacy and respect for human rights.”

“The AFP is as fascist as ever before in spite of the human rights rhetoric of the Aquino regime and its military officials,” added the CPP.

“The Aquino regime has failed to punish even a single element of the AFP responsible for the extrajudicial killing of more than a thousand activist during the Arroyo regime,” said the CPP. “Under its Oplan Bayanihan, hundreds of thousands of civilians especially in the countryside continue to suffer from intense military operations being conducted by the AFP under the signboard of ‘peace and development’.”
Catholic bishops
In a related concern, the communist led National Democratic Front of the Philippines – Eastern Visayas today said the 8th Infantry Division is exploiting the bishops of the Catholic Church in Samar like chess pieces in Oplan Bayanihan’s game of war. “It is reprehensible for 8th ID chief Gen. Mario Chan to exploit the bishops of the Catholic Church, a moral institution, in order to push an immoral, unjust and all-out war through Oplan Bayanihan,” said Fr. Santiago Salas, NDFP-EV spokesperson.
“The armed forces chief, Gen. Eduardo Oban, in fact recently openly gloated with Gen. Chan at the 8th ID’s manipulation of the Church, local government and other sectors, into conjuring the illusion of public support for Oplan Bayanihan. This shows that the Catholic Church and other sectors should be critical and cautious of the military’s lust to launch all-out war and junk along the way the Aquino government’s peace negotiations with the NDFP,” according to a separate statement issued to all voices. com.

The NDF-EV spokesperson argued all the indications show the Aquino government is gearing for all-out war against the people with the support of the US. “Gen. Oban bragged in the region that the military is getting 32 billion pesos for the so-called “modernization” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“But while the Aquino government is fattening the military, it is starving agrarian reform, education, health, government salaries and other basic social reforms and services. The Aquino government is also putting money in the pockets of the military while turning a blind eye to the unresolved corruption scandals in the institution,” he said.

“Gen. Chan is lying when he claims the AFP is not receiving US support. In fact, the AFP received US$15 million in US military aid last 2010, such as 50,000 Kevlar helmets and 1,355 armor vests. This is apart from the non-military support of US$434 million from the US Millenium Challenge Corporation, which is still closely tied to “counterinsurgency” purposes because the military has a major psychological warfare role in the US MCC projects and will benefit from roads for troop maneuvers.
Provocative
The US is now also promising even more military aid and increasing US troop presence in egging on the Aquino government into provocative actions against China, rather than the Philippines pursuing an independent and peaceful foreign policy over the Spratly Islands dispute. All these show the long-running US political, economic and military interests in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.”

The NDFP-EV spokesperson urged the Catholic Church and other sectors to support the peace negotiations between the Aquino government and the NDFP, rather than be deceived by the 8th ID’s malicious misrepresentation of Oplan Bayanihan as a “peace and development” program.

“The Catholic Church and others should be wary and discerning because the military’s promotion of Oplan Bayanihan is “all talk, no justice.” Nothing but lip service to human rights while violations continue and previous ones remain unresolved. Nothing but lip service to helping the poor, because shiny new roads are not enough to address the social injustices suffered by the landless and jobless.

“The Catholic bishops of Samar should beware of wolves in sheep’s skin who are herding them into Oplan Bayanihan’s “road to war.” The NDFP-EV instead urges the Catholic Church and other sectors to support the continuation of the peace talks between the Aquino government and the NDFP. Support the struggle for justice of the victims of human rights violations against the military’s lip service to human rights. Support the discussion of genuine solutions such as socio-economic reforms against the placebo of the military’s showcase road projects and other psywar. Support the struggle for a just and lasting peace, expose and oppose the goal for all-out war of Oplan Bayanihan.”

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Fishers rebuke lifting of commercial fishing ban within 15-km municipal waters

By Lollipop de los Reyes, Leticia Milano-Salami and Gerry Albert Corpuz
MANILA, Philippines- (UPDATE) A militant alliance of small fisherfolk groups on Friday assailed a proposal allowing large, medium-sized and small commercial fishing vessels to fish within the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters describing the it as all-the-way massacre of small fisherfolk rights to livelihood and social justice.
In a public hearing recently conducted in Cebu City, Cebu 2nd district Rep. Pablo Garcia said large-scale commercial fishing vessels should be allowed to operate in the 15-kilometer municipal fishing areas to make sure there are enough fish for Filipinos, which small fisherfolk cannot produce because small fishermen only use hook and line compared to the fishing instruments used by commercial fishers.

But the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya)said the proposal will agitate the 7 million small fisherfolk in the country to revolt to what the group described as the grandmother of all giant kill against the livelihood rights and welfare.

“What kind of political animal is Rep. Garcia? No sane person will propose this kind of outrageous and stupid undertaking. He is even worse than Adolf Hitler,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The Pamalakaya leader said the proposal will automatically slaughter the livelihood of more than 300,000 small fishing operators and the more than 600,000 paddle-using fishermen across the country, excluding hundreds of thousands of non-boat owning fishermen across the country.

“This aging, has-been and Jurassic politician from Cebu should be condemned to the highest order,” added Hicap.

Pamalakaya said aside from lifting the ban on commercial fishing vessels in the 15-kilometer municipal waters, other amendments proposed to make Fisheries Code extremely anti-fisherfolk and pro-fish lords are the proposal to bid the use of fishing waters to private sectors and the elimination of the preferential rights to small fisherfolk where they have to bid and pay for amounts prescribed by local government units before they can fish.

“The proposed amendments to fish code transform the communal fishing grounds into a private property of the few, and that those who make use of fishing areas, should first pay the state, before they will be allowed to fish. That’s really revolting and grossly agitating,” the group said.

Rep. Garcia warned Congress if Congress will not amend the law especially on Section 90 of RA 8550, which bans commercial fishing within the 15-kilometer radius, time will come when the wet markets will run out of fish because marginal fishermen cannot produce more.

The Cebu lawmaker said that the primary aim to amend the law and to create the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) is to ensure food security. Rep. Garcia reiterated the problem is that the catch of marginal fishermen is enough for them and their families with no excess available for sale in the markets.

Rep. Garcia said Presidential Decree 704, the old fisheries law, allowed commercial fishing within seas seven fathoms deep. Under Garcia’s proposal there would be no more definition of municipal waters that would effectively give the right to commercial fishing vessels to fish in small fisherfolk’s territory.

Pamalakaya suggested lawmakers to first undertake a thorough review of the Fisheries Code of 1998, pursue the law’s repeal and work out its replacement by a progressive edict that would be responsive to the collective interest of 7 million people directly and indirectly dependent on fishing.

Rep. Garcia and other lawmakers at the House of Representatives are pushing for the legislative approval of a bill creating the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which would focus on conservation, development and use of the country’s marine resources.

The push for new fisheries department is led by Agham party list Rep. Angelo Palmones who said that all relevant functions in fisheries currently under the disposal of the Department of Agriculture will be transferred to the new department.

Rep. Palmones said the bill is endorsed by the House Committee on Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. He expressed confidence that Congress will pass the bill into a law that will see to it the promotion of strong regulatory body that will adequately guard, conserve and sustainably manage the country’s fishery resources.

The partly list lawmaker said the creation of the fisheries department is timely in the wake of the country’s renewed assertion of its economic rights within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

But Pamalakaya said the proposed creation of fisheries department will just promote another level of bureaucracy and will breed more bureaucrat capitalists in the government because the fisheries law which the department will implement is the same extreme pro-fish lords, pro-monopoly and anti-fisherfolk piece of legislation.
What’s the use

“What’s the use of fisheries of department to small fisherfolk? Nothing, definitely nothing because what we will be talking here are the same laws, the same policies and the same programs in fisheries which denied social justice to 7 million fishers and fishing dependent families,” the group noted.

The proposed fisheries department would have primary jurisdiction over the management, conservation, development, protection, utilization and disposition of all aquaculture, fisheries and aquatic resources of the country, including habitats of fish and all other marine life and other activities which impact on the habitats, except for municipal waters.

Under the proposed department, municipal waters would remain under the jurisdiction of local government units in accordance with national fisheries policies, laws, rules and regulations. The bill mandates the proposed fisheries department to supervise and regulate production and capture of fish and fishery products, as well as the processing and marketing of all aquaculture, fisheries and other aquatic products .

To accomplish its tasks, the proposed fisheries department will lead to the creation of 6 bureaus for fishery economics and statistics, for aquaculture and inland fisheries, fishing technology and capture fisheries, fisheries extension, training and support services, marine resources conservation, management and enforcement and for post harvest and fisheries product standards.

The bill seeks to establish 16 regional field offices and six national fisheries technology centers with an initial budget of P 10 billion and another P 500 million for the construction of its own national office building.

The group theorized that the creation of fisheries department will lead to the implementation of quota system in fishing, where small fisherfolk will be compelled to capture only a certain and defined volume of fish every day.

Pamalakaya said the new fisheries department will engage in daily money making scheme where the government will sell or lease license to fish under the quota system. It said those who can buy or lease franchise from the government to fish would have a grand time in controlling the resources.

“The regulation aspect is not to preserve the marine environment and resources. That’s baloney. The real score is the national government will allow big fishing monopolies to extract resources from Philippine municipal and offshore waters if the price is right. We can read that between the lines,” the group added.

In 2010, an impact assessment conducted by the non-government environmental group Center for Environmental Concern (CEC Philippines) in partnership with the regional and local chapters of the Pamalakaya revealed that the country’s central law passed in 1998 failed to uplift the lives of more than 7 million population directly and indirectly dependent on fishing.

In their paper entitled “14 years of Fisheries Code, Filipino Fisherfolk Still Fish in Troubled Waters, CEC Philippines and Pamalakaya asserted that Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Law of 1998 failed to raise the standard of living of small fisherfolk and was very dismal in protecting marine and inland environment from destruction by corporate monopoly interests.

According to Pamalakaya and CEC Philippines, in 2006, a study conducted by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NCSB) found out the fisherfolk sector has the highest poverty incidence in the country. The NSCB revealed the fisherfolk; the farmers and the children comprised the poorest sectors across-the-country with poverty incidence of 49.9 percent, 44 percent and 40.8 percent respectively.

In the same study, 2006, the fisherfolk sector posted the highest increase in poverty incidence, which is 22.7 percent, compared with farmers with 11.7 percent, senior citizens with 11.3 percent, and urban poor with 8.5 percent, a glaring proof that the 13-year old fisheries law was never been a social justice act of legislation.

The NSCB 2006 report also revealed the poorest fishermen in the country are found in Caraga region, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in Region V, or the Bicol region, which comprises the provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. The same study bared the least poor fishermen are found in Regions III, II and the National Capital Region.

According to the impact assessment research, a large section of the population of fisher people or about 637,000 fishermen still use paddle for fish capture, and about three million more merely offer their labor power for a share on net profit to lower middle fishermen, middle fishermen and upper middle fishermen. The country has 313,000 registered municipal fishing boats individually owned by same number of people.

During the Pamalakaya-CEC consultation, fishermen from Habagat in Batangas narrated how commercial fishing vessels continue to plunder the municipal fishing waters in Nasugbu, Lian, Calatagan and other fishing towns of the province.

Habagat reported the regular presence of 20 commercial fishing vessels in the fishing district of Batangas where they stayed for three successive days. These fishing vessels are capable of harvesting 100 tons of fish per fishing operation, siphoning whatever is reserved for small fishermen within the 15- kilometer municipal fishing water.

In Ticao town in Masbate, Pamalakaya-Masbate said fisherfolk are used to encounter 10 big commercial fishing boats inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing area. Operators of commercial fishing vessels argued they are allowed to fish within the 10.1 kilometer to 15 kilometer under the 7-fathom rule as prescribed in the fisheries code. But there were reports these commercial fishing giants went beyond the 10.1 limit insisting the 7 fathom-deep rule is decisive and legalizes their aggressive entry in the entire 15-km municipal fishing ground.

In La Union, around 37 commercial fishing vessels frequent the municipal fishing towns of the province, and only 10 of them were allowed to fish according to officials of provincial and local government units. Sightings of aggressive commercial fishing are also reported in most of the municipal fishing towns in Leyte and Samar.

“The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 is notorious for imposing zoning ordinance, exorbitant fees and regressive taxation. Under RA 8550, local government units are empowered to impose zoning ordinances under the guise of environmental protection and regeneration of marine resources. Violators of zoning ordinance will be fined ranging from P 1,500 per offense to P 60,000 per offense, indeed, a money making scheme for national and local government units,” the groups added.

While allowing commercial fishing giants to harvest and enjoy the bounty of marine products even inside the 15-kilometer municipal area, LGUs had restricted and limited fishing access and activities to small fisherfolk. The situation resulting from imposition of zoning ordinance and effective fishing ban forced the small fisherfolk to fish in nearby coastal towns.

The effect is disastrous. Small fisherfolk are forced to fish for more fishing hours because they have to go farther, spend more money to enhance the capability of their boats and gears, spend more money for gasoline, oil and food and face the risk of being arrested by local authorities of other towns which imposed the same zoning ordinance against “foreign intruders

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CBCP led rally against Luisita referendum set

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Jayjay Jaiho, Gloria Madonna Velarde and LivinLaVida Luna

MANILA, Philippines- A church backed broad formation will step up the campaign against any referendum that would seal the fate of the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita in favor of the family of Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

Activist peasant lawmaker—Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist Rep. Rafael Mariano announced on Tuesday that a broad interfaith rally of farmers, farm workers, church people and cause-oriented groups supported by prelates of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) will be held on Friday against the proposed referendum and pursue the immediate distribution of the disputed 6,453 sugar estate and the reversal of the Supreme Court’s deceptive ruling on Hacienda Luisita’s Stock Distribution Option (SDO).

On July 22, groups will gather at Kalaw and Taft Avenues and rally participants will march to the Supreme Court up to Liwasang Bonifacio where the interfaith and multi-sectoral protest rallies will be held from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm

“Farmers and farm workers of Luisita have all the just reasons to protest this social injustice and Cojuangco-Aquinos’ monopoly of Luisita. These broad mass actions will culminate on July 25 on the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno Aquino III,” said Rep. Mariano in a press statement issued to all voices. com.

“Aquino miserably failed in addressing not only the Luisita problem but also other persisting economic problems in the country – landlessness and rural poverty, lack of employment and decent wages, increasing prices of petroleum products, utilities and services,” he added.

The solon said “a referendum to be conducted by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Hacienda Luisita is a direct affront to Luisita farm workers who are waging a life and death struggle to own the lands.” Farm workers will boycott the referendum should the SC and DAR continues with the proceedings despite rejection from farmers.

In 1989, a referendum was held in Hacienda Luisita for the approval of the SDO which was used by the administration of then President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino to evade land distribution of Luisita. In August 2010, another devious referendum was “cooked” by the Cojuangcos-Aquinos making farm workers choose between the land and the SDO retention. “We will not allow a repeat of these maneuverings by the President’s family, aided by the SC and DAR,” Mariano said.

“During the 1989 SDO, 1,538 hectares out of the 6,453 hectares of Hacienda Luisita were immediately exempted from coverage. In August 2010 under the compromise deal hatched by the Cojuangco-Aquinos, some 1,366 hectares were left for so-called distribution. Now, based on the SC ruling, more than 4,000 hectares of land will be distributed, said Mariano. “In reality, there will be no distribution of lands. The SC decision only strengthened the Cojuangco-Aquino control and monopoly of Luisita. This social injustice must stop, farmers – the rightful owners of Luisita, must have their rightful share of the lands.”

Mariano said Congress must pursue the amendment of Sections 3 and 31 of Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988. The Anakpawis solon said repealing these provisions of the law will remove any “legal basis” for the Cojuangco-Aquinos to maintain the SDO in contested lands. “SDO is still in effect and implemented not only in Luisita but also in 13 other haciendas across the country.”
Cultivation in Luisita
Meanwhile.farm workers belonging to the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita [AMBALA], the United Luisita Workers’ Union [ULWU] and the farm worker based group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura [UMA] took the fight for and justice right inside 6,453 Hacienda Luisita.

About 200 farm workers together with some village officials started to cultivate the 500 hectares Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation in the morning of July 15 to launched their invigorated campaign for right to land. Led by AMBALA and ULWU, they marched crossing a two kilometer village gap between Brgy. Mapalacsiao to Brgy. Balete where RCBC fenced lot is located.

“Armed only with our determination and guided principle we enter the RCBC premise and started what all our lives doing, to plant” said Rodel Mesa, AMBALA spokesperson. “We didn’t get justice in the high court so we brought justice to each and every Hacienda Luisita farm workers who have been victims of injustice for five decades by the Cojuangco’s and bungkalan is the expression of that justice that we sought. We are claiming the whole 6,453 hectares and not the 4, 300 that the Supreme Court wants to give, RCBC lot is part of Hacienda Luisita property”.

Now on the fourth day of the camp-out, the farm workers already cleared almost eight hectares ready to seed by vegetables and other cash crops. Members from baranggay’s Balete, Mapalacsiao , Texas , Bantog , Asturias and CutCut were collectively tending the lands. Other farm workers have already expressed eagerness to join the collective farming as this report is writing. Mesa who also the secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura also said “Our bungkalan or collective farming gained positive reaction from other farm workers.
In Brgy. Texas almost 200 farmer-residents attended our mass meeting, they are interested to know the situation in our fight. It was the same reaction on the brgy. Balete and based on reports we received other baranggay’s are calling for mass meetings too”. “Others will definitely follow as they are convinced that bungkalan will give them land to till. Bumgkalan gave them the steam to assert their right to land. While we are appealing for the court to change their stand on their 6-4 decision favoring a referendum through our motion for consideration that will be filed this week, our effort here inside Hacienda Luisita will stand. Subject all the remaining farm lands that has not been converted to bungkalan and gave it to the farm worker beneficiaries” Mesa snapped

Meanwhile for his part, Lito Bais, chair of the United Luisita Workers’ Union [ULWU] “We have the basis, all the rights and certainly the support of the majority of the farm workers to back this up. Bungkalan will be the symbol of our struggle to land and at the same time the expression of our defiance to the Cojuangco’s whims”. In the mid-90’s, Ithocho Company., a Japanese firm first acquired the land and developed it through its contractor HAZAMA Philippines. But after the 2004 strike,HASAMA passed it to RCBC through HLI. From then on up to the present, RCBC got the hold and fenced the said property in Brgy. Balete

He also said “As far as the farm workers are concern RCBC lot is not separate from Hacienda Luisita contrary to the high court’s contention that it was “innocent purchased”, for their information Hacienda Luisita property was in a legal row more than two decades, so how come they missed that?. “The farm workers are ready to fight this in court and inside Hacienda Luisita, we are the aggrieved party here not the Cojuangco’s. What we got here is failure to deliver social justice so we are going to make that happen and bungkalan would prove that we are on the right and just path to achieved it” Bais ended###

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