On February 15, 2016, fisherfolk organizations from coastal communities of Tacloban City gathered to tackle the platforms they would push through in the coming local elections. These fisherfolk mostly engage in capture fisheries, fish cage operation, fishing vending, and seaweed farming and processing. The following sections present the major issues and recommendations identified by them.
A. CANCABATO BAY CLEARING & CLEAN-UP
While our focus still remains on addressing the immediate needs of the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, we might as well consider paying attention to the equally devastating impact of the typhoon to our natural ecosystems. In Tacloban City, the fisherfolk sector has raised concern on the poor condition of the seas months after the disaster hit. Most of them have reported of lesser fish catch and notably, the existence of pile of mixed of garbage and debris that is now flooding the fishing grounds.
Cancabato Bay is one of the major sources of fish for the fisherfolk of Tacloban City. The bay is surrounded by 16 barangays and was once declared to be a mariculture area in 2003 by the Sangguniang Bayan. Dangit production has been the primary livelihood of the fisherfolk around the bay for the longest time. It is also rich in sea shells, oyster, and crabs. However after the typhoon, despite the absence of a scientific assessment on the status of marine life, fisherfolk asserted that a lot of debris got piled on at the bottom of Cancabato Bay. Significantly according to them, debris include wrecked cars, ammunitions from the nearby military attachment, and even dead bodies.
It was only on November 26, 2015 when the claim of the fisherfolk on the alarming status of Cancabato Bay was validated. In a joint retrieval operation spearheaded by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) Forensic Team led by Chief Public Attorney Persida Rueda-Acosta through the initiative of Fr. Robert Reyes and the Tacloban Fisherfolk Urban Association (TFUA), two skeletons and two skulls from the swampy mangrove area of Sitio Burayan at Brgy. 83-A and a Honda car near Fisherman’s Village at Brgy. 88 were retrieved.
The retrieval operation that happened in Cancabato Bay resulted to positive gains for the fisherfolk. On the 25th of November, a day before the conduct of the activity that was duly coordinated with the local government of Tacloban City, the Sangguniang Bayan passed two resolutions seeking for financial support for the clean-up of the bay. The resolutions called on the Local Finance Committee and concerned national government agencies, including their regional and local counterparts, to support the demand of the fisherfolk. Finally, on December 27, 2015, the first coordination meeting was convened. It was attended by the regional offices of DND-OCD, DENR, DILG, DOH, PNP, AFP, and the NGOs for Fisheries Reform.
As specific details regarding funding and coordination are yet to be ironed out, the fisherfolk reiterates their call on the importance of clearing and cleaning up Cancabato Bay. With the declining fish catch and with the debris exacerbating the condition, the hope now rests on the rehabilitation of the bay and one concrete solution thought by the sector is to declare a one year closed season. This only implies no fishing activities for all municipal fisherfolk until the bay fully replenished. In this regard, the fisherfolk would like to have alternative sources of income. The combination of a closed season and alternative livelihood program for the fisherfolk after Cancabato Bay is cleared up is only the start of sustainably managing the fishing industry of Tacloban City.
B. TIDE EMBANKMENT
Many survivors of the Typhoon Yolanda were caught in great surprise when the national government through the Department of Public Works and Highway Region VIII revealed its plan of putting up a tide embankment along the coast of Tacloban City, Palo, and Tanauan. This project has two major components and that is road heightening and the establishment of the actual tide embankment infrastructure which stands at 4.5 meters and runs for 27.3 kilometers. It will be implemented from the year 2015 until 2020 and has an estimated budget of 7.9 billion pesos drawn from the national coffer.
It was the fisherfolk sector who first registered major opposition to the project. By all logic, the establishment of a tide embankment entails the tearing down of a significant portion of the foreshore land in which located are the boats, drying areas, docking sites, and especially homes of the fisherfolk. With the strong condemnations the project has received from peoples organizations and civil society groups, its implementation halted for some months. However, according to DPWH, it will return to operation this first quarter of 2016.
The opposition of the fisherfolk to the tide embankment project was very well-founded. It is never the intention of the sector to discredit the study made by the Japan International Cooperation Agency on storm surge projection in Leyte which gave birth to the project. In fact, the fisherfolk themselves recognize its value and urgency. However, the thing they fear is the massive displacement that will surely happen.
For the fisherfolk of Tacloban City, tide embankment should be implemented in the area from Dulag to airport and not in Cancabato Bay. This location proved to be of strategic importance since it directly faces the Pacific Ocean where typhoons usually develop. Moreover, they suggested planting of belts of mangroves to serve as natural barriers against typhoons instead of a hard infrastructure for Cancabato Bay.
C. NO BUILD ZONE & FISHERFOLK SETTLEMENT
In the wake of Typhoon Yolanda, one immediate need of survivors was housing with an accumulated demand of 205, 128 units for all the provinces that were devastated. Specific for Tacloban City, the city council reported a 14, 433 housing need. The provision however on resettlement as part of the government rehabilitation program is being contested by the fisherfolk who rather prefer an on-site intervention due to livelihood reasons. Yet despite the claim of the sector, the national government issued the blanket policy of then 40 Meters No Build Zone which basically requires demolition of infrastructures that are within 40 meters from the coastline. As a result, the fisherfolk now face the lingering threat of eviction from the coastal communities where they had since lived and prospered.
The reservation of the fisherfolk to the proposed resettlement program of the government is due to (1) its relative distance to the sea, the market, and schools, (2) the row house design of permanent houses does not fit to their socio-economic activities, and (3) the unclear provision on recovery cost. Given these concerns, consequently, most of the fisherfolk decided to rebuild their lives at their original dwelling locations near the sea instead of availing the resettlement program of the government.
It has been observed in Tacloban City that those fisherfolk who agreed to be resettled now started to come back because of the lack of services and access to livelihood in resettlement sites. But given the reference on the 40 Meters No Build Zone policy, it was found out that the same policy was used by both national and local government units to deprive the disaster survivors of the Emergency Shelter Assistance and even aid coming from non-government organizations.
Today, the 40 Meters No Build Zone policy evolved into something that now categorizes areas along the coast to be “hazard zones” prone to storm surge and as well as to tsunami and to other hydro-geological hazards. This undisputable finding of science through hazard maps further complicate the bid of the fisherfolk to remain near the source of their livelihood. Given this, the fisherfolk now demand identification of “safe” lands that are not too distant from the sea for the establishment of their longstanding call of a fisherfolk settlement.
D. LAW ENFORCEMENT
It is a fact that municipal fisherfolk suffered the most from Typhoon Yolanda. They were left with nothing as their boats and other fishing equipment were taken away by storm surge. This loss of livelihood for capture fisheries also impacted those who engage in fish vending. In the wake of the typhoon, they heavily relied on relief assistance and cash for work programs. Some non-government organizations and the government itself through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources also provided boats, fish cages, and gears to the fisherfolk to start up their economic activity.
Understandably, the desperation to look for food has forced some to employ means viewed to be inconvenient. A number of ransack and looting incidents and petty crimes were recorded to which not only the Taclobanons were found to be guilty of but sadly including those residents of nearby municipalities. The chaotic condition brewing in the City was not immediately contained by the police force of the government. Moreover, enforcers have also forgotten to patrol the municipal waters of Tacloban City. With much dismay, some fisherfolk from Brgy. 52 reported of this group of people from Samar who stole their boat engines and other fishing equipment. And just recently, the same incident of stealing was reported by members of the Tacloban Fisherfolk Urban Association who were robbed off of five motor boat engines.
The kind of unrestricted entry of other fisherfolk allegedly coming from adjacent municipalities is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. It does not only expose the local population of Tacloban City to petty crimes but as well as foster competition to its resident municipal fisherfolk around Cancabato Bay. What is being proposed by the fisherfolk to solve this issue is for the city council to strengthen its enforcement on the seas. This can be done by augmenting the number of Fisheries Law Enforcement Team (FLET) members and Bantay Dagat. It should be made sure that law enforcers are equipped with proper training and be provided with the right equipment. And more importantly, it is about time to set the boundaries of Tacloban municipal waters from that of adjacent municipalities by putting up visible and permanent markers.
It was coastal communities that were heavily damaged by storm surge leaving them with barely anything after. Due to the magnitude of the disaster, relief assistance has not been very particular to the needs of every sector. It has been observed that assistance got out of control and in times even became counterproductive. Specific to the municipal fishers, they have raised question on the seemingly over production of boats with a design they considered to be not fit to their needs and unsafe for sailing due to its small size. Moreover, it is becoming apparent today that fish cages given to them pose serious threat to marine life due to wastes produced.
With the setbacks on assistance that could have been addressed had agencies been more sensitive, the idea to reconvene the City Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (CFARMC) was opened up. The CFARMC is mandated by R.A. 8550, or the 1998 Fisheries Code of the Philippines, to serve as venue for the participation of fisherfolk in local development planning. Ideally, any law or legislation passed by the local government that is related to fisheries needs the approval of the CFARMC. The body is composed of both municipal and commercial fisherfolk with representative coming from other members of the community.
Through the initiative of the City Agriculture of Tacloban with the support of the Provincial Fisheries Office and with the assistance of the NGOs for Fisheries Reform, an election was held on June 19, 2015 to reconvene the CFARMC. The City Agriculture invited all the fisherfolk associations of Tacloban and Sir Jun Castillo of the Tacloban Fisherfolk Urban Association was elected as the Chairperson.
The new set of officers has been active in their duties. One of the major campaigns of the CFARMC is the clearing up and rehabilitation of the Cancabato Bay. However, like any other organizations, problems started to emerge. It should be noted that CFARMC works on a volunteer basis. On top of the problems is the difficulty in gathering all the officers and members together because others come from far way barangays while some simply do not have the money to attend meetings and activities.
Given the limitations of CFARMC, its members call for a regular funding from the city council of Tacloban for its maintenance and operation. They request for a permanent office and a service vehicle for its members use. The end objective of these demands is to free them from additional costs for a more productive fulfillment of their duties.
Article written by Mr. Erlo Matorres