We, the Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama (PaNaGaT) Network, a coalition of fisherfolk and non-government organizations which support the strict and full implementation of Republic Act No. 10654, or the Amended Fisheries Code, would like to highlight and commend the important role of our fisherfolk in securing available and safe food in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our fishers are essential frontline workers who continue to provide food for the public during the Extended Community Quarantine (ECQ). In 2019 alone, our 1.9 million municipal fishers provided us with 1.106 tons of seafood, or 25.4 percent of the total fisheries production1 in the country. Indeed, they remain to be the backbone of the fishing industry in the Philippines.
Under the enhanced and extended community quarantine, we have monitored and received reports from our partner municipal fisherfolk organizations throughout the country that their families have received minimal food packs since the lockdown started on March 15. With the extension of the community quarantine and uncertainty on when the threat of the COVID-19 virus will end, the little resources that our fishers have will soon be depleted.
In this regard, we would like to underscore the following challenges faced by our municipal fishers in the COVID-19 pandemic and propose the following recommendations for appropriate actions from local government units and concerned government agencies:
(1) Fast-track the distribution of cash and food subsidies detailed in the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, for fisherfolk families affected by the lockdown throughout Metro Manila, coastal provinces of Luzon and all other affected provinces and coastal local governments.
(2) Facilitate transportation support to move fish products from the communities to the designated markets. We commend the quick action by the Department of Agriculture (DA) by the issuance of Memorandum Circular 9, series of 2020 to ensure unhampered delivery of fish and agricultural products. We propose then that the DA through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) use government reefer trucks or refrigerated vans, which could be complemented by LGU to LGU mediated (buyer-producer) fisheries trade, in support of the joint statement issued by the chiefs of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) for governments “to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the movement and trade of food, farm and fishery inputs, and basic necessities”. Although fishers are exempted from quarantine and are allowed to sail amid the ongoing curfews, they find it difficult to market their harvest due to limited buyers and traders apart from challenges met in checkpoints.
(3) Encourage government support in consolidation and absorption of the shefiry products from small fisherfolk operations, as some locgal overnments are doing in buying fish from fisherfolk for distribution as food packs, will allow fishers to feed their families and at the same time, secure the country’s food supply..
(4) Facilitate the transport of fishery and farm products and maintain adequate fish supply in markets. We also encourage the DA-BFAR, DILG and LGUs to have closer coordination to facilitate the flow of the supply chain by issuing clear policies allowing traders, transport vans and trucks to freely pass through boundary checkpoints, considering DA Memorandum Circular 9, Series of 2020. These should incorporate the inclusion of fisheries products in the establishment of Kadiwa: Ani at Kita outlets selling food products direct from farmers and fishers to consumers, and under the Kadiwa Express and Kadiwa Online marketing of products and other mobile markets that LGUs can establish such as market on wheels or pamilihan sa barangay.
(5) Provide ice-making machines and other needed post harvest facilities. Special exemptions should be issued for ice-making companies, so they could operate and supply fisherfolk and traders with much needed ice to preserve their catch and ensure quality fish products. This can be done through partnership with existing organized groups and/or securing ice-making machines to be loaned out to fisherfolk organizations so they can preserve their fish catch. We also call on the LGUs to maximize the community fish landing centers (CFLCs) in order to consolidate and locally market fishery products. This will address the scarcity of ice in our production areas due to the halting of operations of most companies.
(6) Continuous fishery law enforcement. We urge the LGUs, in coordination with the DA-BFAR, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies to continue seaborne operations especially in municipal waters, as some coastal municipalities are doing in partnership with national enforcement agencies. We also recommend logistical provisions for seaborne operations including honoraria and food for Bantay Dagat personnel, and fuel for patrol boats.
(7) Disseminate policies and facilitate the application of social amelioration programs in partnership with non-government organizations and peoples organizations. We also recommend the timely dissemination of guidelines, policies and immediate facilitation of the application for social amelioration programs such as the Ahon Lahat, Pagkain Sapat Kontra sa COVID-19 (ALPAS COVID-19) Program, where fisherfolk can loan as much as Php25,000 payable up to 10 years without collateral. PaNaGat as a network are doing the same in their social media platforms.
(8) Proper and clear coordination of concerned government agencies particularly IATF, DA, BFAR, DILG, LGUs and enforcement agencies. PaNaGaT welcomes the responsive programs of the DA-BFAR to protect our fisheries sector and ensure food security, which include the request for Php1 Billion additional budget from the Inter-Agency Task Force to Address COVID-19 to start an urban aquaponics project, provide assistance to aquaculture and capture fisheries, and develop social amelioration programs specific for fishing communities.
We also commend the government agencies for enhancing checkpoint protocols to ensure the unhampered movement of food and agri-fishery products and personnel, regional implementation of the Kadiwa: Ani and Kita program, and expanding the amelioration programs to fisherfolks.
We thank the DA-BFAR for granting the request for a dialogue with PaNaGat to discuss these challenges. We hope that programs and assistance to support our municipal fishers, who are the poorest of the poor in all sectors, will be implemented. In these challenging times, we are hopeful that municipal fishers and their families, together with all the sectors in the country, would weather the economic blow of the quarantine through continuing close collaboration. Together, we can help in flattening the curve and supporting our frontline workers and prioritize the safety of everyone and emerge protected against the COVID-19 pandemic.