30-boat fluvial protest kicked off despite Tsunami alert

By Pepsi La Loma

Legazpi City, Albay- Despite of the Tsunami alert brought about by the 8.8 killer earthquake in Chile yesterday, fisherfolk activists belonging to Lakas ng mga Maliliit na Mangingisda ng Bicol (Lambat-Bicol) staged on Sunday a 30-boat fluvial parade to demand the next elected president to pursue the repeal of the 12-year old Fisheries Code of 1998.

“While we consider the tsunami alert this morning and early afternoon, we still went on with our 30-boat fluvial protest against Fisheries Code of 1998. A potential tsunami will not stop us from delivering our political and electoral message today. We will strongly ask the next elected President of the Philippine Republic to certify as urgent the repeal of Fisheries Code of 1998. It is time to end this 12-year old running nightmare,” said Salvador France, chair of Lambat-Bicol and the vice-chairperson of the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).

“The next President should also call on Congress to craft a new fisheries law that will uphold the collective rights of millions of fisherfolk and will protect the seas from big time exploiters and first-rate profiteers in the backward fishing industry. A tsunami of protest awaits the next President if he fails to correct an injustice known as Fisheries Code of 1998,” added France.

The anti-Fisheries Code fluvial parade kicked off this morning and passed several coastal barangays of the towns of Bacacay, Pag-asa, Sto. Domingo and culminated in Legazpi City harbor in Albay province, with fisherfolk leaders and activists on board of fishing boats chanting “Fisheries Code of 1998, Ibasura!” (Junk Fisheries Code of 1998!) as they crossed coastal barangays on their way to the main wharf in the region’s main capital.

France said the protest ended at 12:00 noon, or an hour earlier set by Philvocs on the possible effect of the killer earthquake in Chile to nations along the Pacific belt. Nineteen coastal provinces all over the country are facing the Pacific stretch where tidal waves are expected to occur. But early this evening, Philvocs cancelled the alert level it earlier raised.

Prior to the 30-boat fluvial parade in Bicol, anti-Fisheries Code protests were staged by Pamalakaya and its regional and provincial chapters this month. On Feb.9 and Feb.10, and Feb.23 lake fisherfolk in Laguna Lake staged caravans demanding for the immediate scrapping of the fisheries law.

On Feb.25, some 100 Pamalakaya members from Cebu, Bohol and Negros kicked off a swim protest in Mactan Channel in Cebu City to demand the immediate repeal of the 12-year old controversial fisheries law.

The law passed by Congress in 1998, three months before the 1998 presidential election was largely blamed by fisherfolk organizations all over the Philippines for the sorry state of local fisheries in the country.

France said the Fisheries Code of 1998 is more of a lip service rather than a legacy on empowerment for the 1.4 million small fisherfolk and 10 million of their direct dependents.

The activist fisherfolk leader noted that while the 12-year fisheries act recognized the preferential rights of small fishermen to use the 15-kilometer municipal fishing ground, it also allows commercial fishing vessels to penetrate municipal fishing areas by virtue of a provision that once a municipal fishing area is more than 7-fathoms deep, commercial fishing operators are allowed to come in and capture fish to the detriment of small fishermen.

France lamented Fisheries Code of 1998 also enhanced the privatization of communal fishing grounds and coastal communities through the controversial Fishpond Lease Agreement and Foreshore Lease Agreement (FLAs) where big business is allowed to transform fishing areas into fishpond and aquaculture ponds, put up eco-tourism projects and export-oriented undertakings.

He said the 12-year old fish law reduced scope of fishing areas due to imposition of restrictive measures such as color coding and zoning ordinances that prevent small fishermen from going to one municipal fishing town to another. On the other hand, the government courtesy of the Fisheries Code imposed burdensome taxes and fees on fishers’ boats and gears, including multiple fees on simple violations of the code.

Lambat-Bicol and Pamalakaya said the 12-year old fisheries law merely transformed small fisherfolk into sidekicks of law enforcers. As members of Bantay Dagat, small fisherfolk are employed to watch and monitor their small fisherfolk colleagues suspected of engaging in dynamite and illegal fishing, while authorities let go the big fish engaged in bigger crimes against the fisherfolk and environment.

Pamalakaya said the repeal of the Fisheries Code of 1998 will be presented as an electoral agenda during the presidential forum billed Pamalakaya Fisherfolk Academy 2010 edition, which the group will call next month.

In 2004, Pamalakaya and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) had a joint presidential forum which was attended by the late Fernando Poe Jr. In 2007, Pamalakaya called the first edition of the fisherfolk academy but only San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito, who was rumored to be running for senatorial election that time attended the fisherfolk forum.

Pamalakaya said invitations will be off this week and will be sent to Nacionalista Party (NP) standard bearer Sen. Manuel Villar, Liberal Party presidential bet Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, Lakas-Kampi merger party bet Gilbert Teodoro, former President Joseph Estrada of Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) and independent candidates Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas Movement, Senator Richard Gordon, Olongapo councilor JC de los Reyes and environmentalist Nicanor Perlas. #

Fluvial protesters demand social justice for small fishermen

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