Why is Fisherfolk International Solidarity Formation a Must?

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“No man is an island.” So says a basic tent explaining the sociable nature of Homo sapiens. That man cannot live alone; much less 

can he achieve universal undertaking via a one man crusade approach or ala Don Quixote. This just validates the rationale behind an association, organization, or a solidarity formation of whatever cause and purpose.

 

            “Think globally, act locally.” This has been a widely accepted dictum in the environmental movement of the years. That while the concern is global, the conservation practice that is actually being under taken in one particular part of the earth is part of the worldwide undertaking for that purpose. Meaning, the act of conservation must be a concerted and unified effort. It is here that strong linkages among organizations, groups and citizens of the world gain utmost prominence and importance.

 

            This is especially remarkable as far as the fishers of the world are concerned. The world is being surrounded and linked by waters thru seas, oceans, rivers, lakes and other bodies. In fact the world is seventy percent water. In this part of the earth which is considered the last frontier dwells a human being called fisherman.

 

            Fishers are everywhere. Yet, they are alien with each other. The water that serves as an effective link among fisherfolk is an irony in itself as it serves also as wall that separates fishers of the West from the East, or fishers of the North from the South. That while fishers are strategically located in every fishing ground, yet they remain a dormant but potent force that still hast to e organized and mobilized towards a common ground.

 

            It is a stark reality that, anywhere the treatment of the water and the whole aquatic environment is dumping site for waste of all kinds. Advance countries in particular consider the fishery areas of the third world an unloading site for their toxic wastes. This is while thinking that its resources cannot be depleted by unrestrained and rapacious exploitation of the mighty few. In this respect, there is indeed a need to exert pressure towards the addressing of the problem by every government and peoples of the world. This problem requires coordination among peoples and groups caring for the environment and natural resources in order to be solved. And the fisherfolk, being the sector whose life and limbs are integral part of the aquatic environment must in unison initiate the act.

 

The junction of goal and undertaking in the international arena could be facilitated through formation of a global solidarity to the effect that fishers of the world would coordinative launch lobbying and advocacy activity address to their respective government and people, and to the whole altogether.

 

FILIPINO FISHERS AND THE LOCAL FISHERIES SITUATION AS CONNECTING LINK

 

            Filipino fishers, being one of the most numerously scattered sectors in the Philippine society, and whose very existence is largely dependent on agriculture, particularly fisheries can serve as effective link as far as fostering fishers’ solidarity around the globe is concerned. The Filipino fishers’ struggle against exploitation and devastation of the fishing grounds has always been as intense and as reflective of the current fisheries issues and problems.

 

            This is understandable because a glance at the Philippine fishery profile reveals that the Philippines, being located at the heart of Southwest Pacific Ocean, is an archipelago encompassing some 7,100 islands and islets which tropical waters are known to be rich in marine and aquatic lives. The country’s total coastline is 17,462 kilometers with a marine cover of 2.11 million square kilometers. Its inland waters is composed of 68 lakes, 421 rivers, swamplands, reservoirs, dams and fishponds with an aggregate total of 1,070,600 hectares.

 

            Therefore, next to agriculture, fishing is one of the primary economic activities in rural dominant Philippines. The industry employs over one million people or about five percent of the national labor force. Municipal fisherfolk are the dominant productive forces in the industry. More than 675,000 fall under this category. Aquaculture fisheries have more or less 250,000 workforces, while not less than 50,000 work as wage earners for large-scale commercial fishery business in the land.

 

            The fishing industry plays a crucial role in the lives of Filipinos. Aside from providing direct and indirect employment for millions of rural folk in the land (around 6.24 million directly dependent get their source of livelihood from the industry), it also ensures the people of safety and security with regard to their food needs. For Filipinos, fish remains one of the basic necessities of life and one of the most important and cheapest sources of protein especially for the poor.

 

            In 1992, municipal fisherfolk posted a total harvest of 855,000 metric tons of marine product or 32.56 percent of the total marine output produced last year. Commercial fisheries were accounted for an 805,000 metric ton output or 30.65 percent. More significant is the rapid growth in aquaculture fishery posting a 736,000 metric ton produced or 27.80 percent, while inland fisheries managed to produce 230,000 aggregate tons of fish product or 8.76 percent of the aggregate production for 1992. The fishing industry earmarked a total gross output amounting to P 65.443 B in 1992.

 

Despite the projected growth in the industry, fisherfolk still live in abject poverty. Independent studies revealed that majority of them are economically deprived and/or marginalized. According to these studies, almost 80 percent of them earn income below the poverty threshold of P 2,061 set by NEDA.

 

Organized fisherfolk and non-government organizations (NGOs) attributed the worsening plight of the marginalized fisherfolk to existing fishery laws and policies which they described as pro-foreign, pro-capital and anti-fisherfolk.

 

            PD 704 also known as Philippine Fisheries Law of 1975 has deprived fishermen to explore and utilize the country’s vast marine and aquatic resources. The law expressly favors the private sector or the moneyed class in the exploration and exploitation of fishery resources by declaring that sector beneficiary and reliable partner of the government in accelerating fish production and maintaining its export-import direction.

 

            The Philippine government by virtue of lopsided agreements entered into with foreign nationals and businesses has refrained Filipino fisherfolk from active participation and production in the industry. Onerous and one-sided agreements such as the RP-Japan Treaty and the RP-Taiwan Sea Lane Accord in years of their effectivities have contributed much to the fisherfolk’s deplorable condition.

 

For years, the government has failed to address issues of social concern confronting Filipino fisherfolk. While laws and policies governing the fishing industry dynamically protect and legalized foreign and local capitals’ control over the industry.

 

On ecology and natural resources side of the situation, the scene is even bleak.

 

            Records will attest to the following, that of the country’s coral reefs, only 5 percent remain in excellent condition. That our mangrove areas are being cleared at an alarming rate to give way to private and commercial fish ponds. That one third of the total sea grass beds has already been destroyed. Further, we have now 40 dead rivers, a high degree of pollution to 60 percent of our 68 lakes, and a number of destroyed marine fishing grounds, one example is Manila Bay.

 

            Destruction of the ecosystem id largely caused by pollution, siltation, destructive fishing methods, conversion of mangrove areas to fishponds and other uses, seaweeds and corals gathering for commercial purposes, and of course, lack of political will on the part of government to enforce fishing laws and to initiate fishery laws that would correct the current system.

 

            This situation is further compounded by various government projects and development programs which are being done with wanton disregarded to effects on the aquatic ecosystem as well as to the fishermen.

 

            It should be noted that some of the local fishery problems like toxic wastes, encroachment of foreign fishing vessels, fishery laws, treaties and programs favoring foreign countries and businesses ought to be rise to the international arena or forum to gain strength towards complete resolution.

 

            One clear connecting thread therefore in forging international solidarity are the local fishery issues possess of international implications e.g. GATT, EEZ, toxic wastes, and others.

 

 

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