Fishers to pit own SONA vs. GMA SONA

Fishers to pit own SONA vs. GMA SONA

The chairperson of the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Saturday announced it would have its own State of the Nation Address (SONA) ahead of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s SONA on July 27.

In a press statement, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said the fisherfolk alternative SONA to be held in UP Diliman on July 20 would be billed as “Like Fishes Over Troubled Waters”, which will be co-sponsored by Anakpawis party list.

He said fisherfolk resource persons would discuss disturbing trends in local fisheries like the across-the-country sell out of coastal communities to foreign investors, and left and right lease of public lands and foreshore land areas to big corporations abroad.

Hicap announced the schedule of its own SONA a day after Presidential Chief of Staff and former AFP Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon Jr. revealed that the President’s SONA on July 27 would deal largely on the infrastructure accomplishments of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration since last year.

Esperon, who is tasked to monitor the implementation of government infrastructure projects, last week, said that 38 infrastructure projects are already completed and 37 more projects are set to be finished by the end of the year. He said the funding for these projects are complete or are in place.

“It is going to be a battle of SONAs. But our SONA is based on truth and vast experience of ordinary, yet struggling coastal people in fishing communities. We will flood and deluge President Arroyo with fishery facts and figures that will further expose her crimes against the fisherfolk and the Filipino public in general,” said Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said problems concerning the massive privatization and conversion of coastal communities will be highlighted by stories of reclamation in Laguna Lake, Manila Bay, Cordova reclamation and South Reclamation Project in Cebu province. Hicap said the phenomenon of offshore mining in Cebu, Bohol, Antique, Palawan and Ragay Gulf will also be tackled during the fisherfolk SONA.

Hicap said the forum aptly billed “Like Fishes Over Troubled Waters” will also discuss the implications of bilateral agreements the Arroyo government entered with foreign states like the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), the RP-EU Partnership and Cooperation Pact, the forthcoming RP-US Free Trade Agreement, the RP-China Agreement and other economic deals the government recently clinched with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Brazil.

Hicap said these agreements are closely linked or attributed to the moves of Malacañang and allies in the House of Representatives that seek to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly to revise the 1987 Constitution and lift the ban on 100 foreign ownership of land, aside from allowing President Arroyo to extend her stay in power.

Pamalakaya’s Hicap said around 200 fisherfolk leaders from the provinces of Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, Batangas and Quezon, all in Southern Tagalog Region, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales in Central Luzon, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate and Catanduanes all in Bicol region and Cebu, Bohol and Negros Occidental.

For his part, Pamalakaya vice-chair for Luzon Salvador France said, the alternative SONA will also launch the group’s campaign for the P 32-billion oil and production subsidy to small fisherfolk.

France said the fighting demand of the small fisherfolk for monthly production subsidy to arrest the uncontrollable hikes in the prices of petroleum products and the global economic and financial crisis is long overdue.

He recalled that the demand for production subsidy was submitted to the office Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap on July 2008. France said the demand which was written in two-page letter had been in the office of agriculture secretary, but Secretary Yap is not doing his homework.

The main purpose of the P 32-billion production subsidy is to keep the wheel of production in the fisheries sector in the Philippines moving, because it is currently battered by high prices of oil products and skyrocketing prices of fishing gears and equipments.

Under the annual P 32-billion production subsidy for the fisheries sector proposed by Pamalakaya, all fishermen who own a small motorized banca will receive a minimum P 4,500 monthly oil subsidy, while those who operate non-motorized banca will receive P 2,000 monthly production subsidy.

According to Pamalakaya, the P 4,500 monthly subsidy constitutes about 50 percent of the monthly expenses spent by fishermen owning a small fishing boat in their daily fish capture. It said the proposed measure if approved will benefit 313,985 small fishing boat operators and will cost the government a monthly production subsidy of P 1.4 billion per month or P 16 billion per year.

Pamalakaya’s proposal for production subsidy for 630,000 non-motorized fishing boats operators across the country will cost the national government some of P1.3 billion per month or roughly
P 15.67 billion per year. All in all, the total subsidy for a little over small fishermen will cost he government some P 32 billion in total production subsidies annually.

The group said 100 percent of the production subsidy for fisherfolk operators of small fishing boats will go to oil, while around 50 percent of the proposed subsidy for owners of non-motorized fishing boats will go to gas subsidy, while the rest will go to other production and food needs of small fishermen.

Pamalakaya said the production subsidies for small fishermen could be addressed by immediately and indefinitely suspending the annual payments of foreign and domestic debts that eats up more than one-third of the annual national budget.

It said the proposed fishery production subsidy program is about 10 percent of the national government’s allotment to debt servicing. It would be better if we suspend if not totally stop paying these fraudulent loans acquired and accumulated by the previous and present administrations for their own corruption purposes. #

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