Groups gear up for “fish war” against Palace EO declaring Yolanda damaged coasts as off limit zones
By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Jollibee Sto. Domingo
Manila, Philippines- Local chapters of the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) in Eastern Samar and Leyte, Northern Negros, Panay and Northern Cebu are gearing for a major political showdown with President Benigno Simeon Aquino III concerning an ambitious plan of the national government to declare coastal areas ravaged by super typhoon Yolanda on November last year as off limit zones.
In a statement, regional formations led by Pamalakaya-Eastern Visayas, Pamalakaya-Negros, Pamalakaya-Central Visayas and Pamalakaya-Panay vowed to oppose what they called the grand massacre of fisherfolk livelihood and collective rights.
The groups lamented that the Aquino administration will soon promulgate an executive order that would prevent , regulate or contain small-scale fishermen from pursuing their fishing activities and from enjoying settlement and housing rights along coastal communities.
“The EO declaring coastal communities as off limit zones is meant to displace us and deny our rights to livelihood and social justice. On the other hand, the absolute bias of the EO is clear– that the areas recently damaged by super typhoon Yolanda will be converted into economic zones to accommodate big business in accordance to the national land and water use policy of the state under the umbrella and direction of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) agreement,” the regional fisherfolk groups said in their joint statement.
Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France noted that the cruel intention of the Aquino government is to remove fishing communities and contain fishing activities to give way to construction of economic zones in Yolanda stricken communities.
The Pamalakaya official noted that the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) is planning to build a new special manufacturing area in typhoon-ravaged Leyte under the pretext of rehabilitation and reconstruction process in Eastern Visyas.
France learned that PEZA have already identified a 10-ha property that would be a possible site for the light industry, low-technology econozone. In addition, PEZA will also look into applications for special economic zones in the area so that the reconstruction and provision of jobs would be fast-tracked.
Pamalakaya’s France argued that their fear of massive demolition of fishing communities is further bolstered by a bill has been filed in the House of Representatives seeking to create a special economic zone in the typhoon-devastated city of Tacloban, Leyte. The Pamalakaya leader was referring to House Bill 3640, or the Tacloban City Special Economic Zone Act of 2013, filed by 10 lawmakers from the independent bloc led by Leyte Representative Martin Romualdez, which stressed that establishment of the zone would spur investments in Tacloban.
The ecozone bill asserts that “there are physical, geographic and natural attributes of the Tacloban City coastline area that can make the creation of a freeport ideal. Tacloban port was a haven for international ships and even carriers as evident during the relief operations of some foreign countries in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda last November 8, 2013.”
The bill likewise said that the port is easily accessible to large commercial ships plying the seas of the Asia-Pacific Region and is just a few kilometers from the Tacloban City airport, which has plenty of room for upgrading to an international airport. Under the bill, the proposed Tacloban City Ecozone will operate as a decentralized, self-reliant and self-sustaining, industrial, commercial/trading, agro-industrial, tourist, banking, financial and investment center with suitable residential areas.
Pamalakaya said the draft Palace EO currently being worked out is billed as ADOPTING FISHERFOLK SHELTER FOR STEWARDS (FiSH) AS A NATIONAL STRATEGY TO ENSURE SAFE AND DECENT SETTLEMENT IN COASTAL COMMUNITIES AND ESTABLISHING SUPPORTING MECHANISMS FOR ITS IMPLEMENTATION.
The group said the EO has a potential to remove over 9 million fishermen and coastal people or about 10 percent of the country’s population. “Once signed by the President, it will legalize the removal and demolition of fishing villages. “The EO on fish settlement is an open declaration of war against the Filipino fishing community,” Pamalakaya said.
In justifying his EO, the President said Filipinos should learn from painful lessons of Yolanda, as well as tropical storms “Sendong” and typhoon “Pablo”. President Aquino said the DENR had marked “danger zones” many coastal areas based on the geo-hazard mapping of Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Pamalakaya, and its chapters— Pamalakaya-Eastern Visayas, Pamalakaya-Negros, Pamalakaya- Panay and Guimaras, Pamalakaya-Cebu and Pamalakaya-Southern Tagalog will lead the filing of petition questioning the EO’s constitutionality before SC.
The group said it will also tapped the support of non-government organizations like the Visayas based Fisheries and Marine Environmental Research Institute (FMERI) and the Fisherfolk Development Center (FIDEC) in questioning the EO before the high tribunal.
Pamalakaya said while President Aquino is agitated in removing more than 9 million people along coastal areas in the country, it is extremely obsessed in selling coastal areas to private corporations and foreign companies engaged in large-scale reclamation, blacksand mining, ecozone projects and tourism development programs.
Pamalakaya said President Aquino should be held chiefly responsible for the loss of lives that is now pegged by the national disaster agency to 6,000 plus lives, for the injury of 18,557 individuals, for the missing 1,602 people and for more than 2. 145 million families or more than 9 million individuals displaced.
Prior to typhoon Yolanda, the situation of the people in Eastern Visayas, the most devastated region is deplorable. Region VIII which compromises the provinces of Samar and Leyte ranks the 3rd poorest region in the Philippines as of 2013. Another region hit, Western Visayas that include Negros, Panay and Guimaras islands, has a poverty incidence of 24.7 % and unemployment rate of 27.8 percent. ###