From Luzon to Mindanao: Reflections on environment, empowerment and livelihood sustainability

Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay – “Overwhelming”. This was how Ryan Dela Peña described his experience when he joined a coastal learning exchange organized by the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF).

Eleven fisherfolks from Yakap at Halik Multi-Purpose Cooperative Quezon 2 (Yakap at Halik), and Ipil Action Group (IAG), together with the local government unit of Padre Burgos, Quezon headed by its local chief executive, Mayor Ruben Uy Diokno, aquaculturists Franco Bondeci and Gloria Santos, visited the  Kapunungan sa Gagmay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC) in Zamboanga Sibugay on 04-05 February 2020.

Ryan, chairperson of Yakap at Halik, said that this is the first time the five team leaders of Team Aqua got the chance to see how a community can sustain its livelihood through aquaculture while balancing environmental protection.

Lubos kaming nagpapasalamat sa opportunity na ito. Napakaraming memorable experience dito na aking ibabahagi sa aking mga anak,” Ryan said.

(We are very grateful for this opportunity. These are the memories I will share with my kids.)

Multi-awarded fisherfolk and chair of KGMC, Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon, shared his journey when they used to catch abundant fish species in the ‘60s till the mid ‘80s. With dwindling catch of fish and spiraling cost of living, most of the fisherfolks in Concepcion turned to cutting and clearing of mangrove areas and rivers and illegal fishing. That was the time when Ka Dodoy and other fisherfolks started to act to bring back their resources.

Bumuo kame ng organisasyon upang maturuan ang ating mga kababayan at maibalik ang aming resources para mabuhay ng matiwasay ang aming pamilya. Kung noon, kanya-kanya kame, ngayon nagkakaisa kasama ang aming organisasyon, gobyerno at mga NGOs para sa pagbabago. Kaya ako ay natutuwa dahil kasama natin si Mayor na bumisita sa aming lugar”, shared Ballon.

(We formed an organization to teach our people to restore our resources so our families can live comfortably. Before, we used to do things on our own. Now, we work together with the government and NGOs. I am glad that the Mayor is here to visit our area.)

Ka Dodoy is referring to Mayor Ruben Uy Diokno, who is also a fisherfolk and a sea patroller.                                                                                                                 

According to Mayor Diokno, this learning exchange will lead to positive outcomes through solutions to be implemented when his team goes back to Padre Burgos, Quezon.

“Andito ako upang sumuporta para sa pag-unlad ng samahan, makinig sa mga suggestions ng ating mga kababayan kasama na ang dagdag pondo para sa mas maunlad na kabuhayan”, added Mayor Diokno.

(I am here to support all these organizations and listen to their ideas and suggestions on how we can help to enrich their lives and allot additional funds for them.)

Sight to behold

At the sight of beautiful mangroves, lots of oohs and aahs were heard from the visitors from South Luzon. The team in two boats toured the mangrove forests along the Kabasalan river on the second day of the learning exchange.

The mangrove forests gave a glimpse on how KGMC and Coalition of Municipal Fisherfolks Association of Zamboanga Sibugay (COMFAZS) pushed for the protection of the marine area and the conservation of the mangrove forests that are vital to sustain their main source of income.

Kahanga-hanga ang pangangalaga sa kalikasan ng mga namumuno ng KGMC. Kitang kita kung paano pinagsikapang alagaan at bantayan ang mangrove forests na nakapapalibot sa ilog ng Kabasalan”, said Boy Angeles of Team Aqua.

(The efforts by the KGMC team to guard and protect the mangrove forests surrounding the Kabasalan river is truly remarkable)

As explained by Ka Dodoy, they realized that mangroves provide ideal breeding grounds for fish, crabs and other shellfish, plus the thickets of mangroves serve as buffer zones to protect them from strong typhoon.

“Dahil dyan, nagvolunteer kame lahat bilang bantay dagat! Lahat ng aming nahuling namumutol ay tine-turnover namin sa LGU and DENR pati illegal fishers. Hanggang noong 2013, kame ay narecognize na ng LGU bilang mga bantay dagat at nabigyan na ng pondo ng gobyerno. Nabigyan din lahat ng mangingisda dito sa aming lugar ng livelihood”, added Ka Dodoy.

(Because of that, we all volunteered as sea patrollers! All illegal loggers and fishers were turned over to the LGU and DENR. In 2013, LGU recognized our sea patrol group and they gave us funding. All the fisherfolks in our area were also given livelihood.)

Inspired by the story of the organization for the past 30 years, Franco Bondeci committed to allocate funds for mangrove rehabilitation and establishment, aside from a patrol boat for the ‘bantay dagat’ or sea patrols, seconded and approved by Mayor Diokno.

This show of support from the local government of Padre Burgos LGU earned praise from the whole team. As shared by Yakap at Halik board vice chair, Esperanza Cena, this activity was not just about learning between two coastal communities, but also about how collaborative efforts and synergy among different stakeholders can greatly impact the community. As per Alfred Escano, PEF program officer, it has also achieved for PEF the aim of scaling up efforts and forging stronger partnerships to build self-sufficient, self-reliant and resilient communities.

IAG president Leonardo Dela Peña is grateful for this opportunity for him and other fisherfolks from his town to see for themselves how KGMC and COMFAZS are protecting their mangrove forests and managing their fishponds and fish cages.

At the end of the learning session, the participants shared their realizations and brief experience with KGMC. In closing, PEF’s senior area officer Peter Nabong said he hoped this learning exchange strengthens PEF’s linkage with the local government and various organizations in Padre Burgos, Quezon and work together to create economic sustainability for the people living in these coastal communities.