Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Warning from fisher folk

The “curse of free trade”, according to economist Alejandro Lichauco, has virtually wiped out our agricultural sector from twenty-five percent of the economy in the 1980’s to a bare fifteen per cent today. One can only imagine how those “wiped out” are surviving. Lamentably, in this archipelago of more than seven thousand islands, fisher folk are also being wiped out by the same curse. The market-driven, free trade policies of a series of governments have, according to the KilusangMangingisda (KM), resulted in the dire neglect of fisheries and aquaculture management and the lack of support for municipal fishers. Notably, the latter make up ninety-five percent of the fisheries labor force and contribute at least a third of total fisheries production. Painfully, KM chairman Bonifacio Federizo observes that the present dispensation seems to perpetuate old habits as it equates development with private investments, market access and export-oriented production. The small producers are callously ignored even if, at the municipal level, they play a vita lrole in ensuring livelihood for coastal communities and food fish security for the entire country. Chronic problems like poor management, socio-environmental negligence and resource depletion remain unsolved.

The KM, a coalition of fourteen federations, disputes claims that extensive, commercial aquaculture is a sound and rational alternative to capture fishery. “In its present form,” says Mr.Federizo,” aquaculture in the country remains unregulated and saddled with unsustainable practices.”Insistently, he has pointed out that wanton conversion of mangroves to commercial fish ponds, have already wiped out two-thirds of the country’s natural nurseries and feeding grounds. The excessive accumulation of feeds and organic wastes in commercial fish cages continue to pollute once pristine lakes and near-shore marine waters, causing noxious and wasteful fish kills. Why aren’t their voices heard at high-level summits? Short of obliterating the “curse of free trade”, the Kilusang Mangingisda proposes the following remedies for the impending fish food shortage.
• The maximum sustainable fishing yield is 1.9 million metric tons a year; let us not exceed that.
• Commercial fisheries should be limited to waters of Exclusive Economic Zone since these are relatively unexploited.
• Standards for responsible aquaculture should be enforced to mitigate and/or prevent adverse socio-environmental impact on aquaculture production and coastal fishing communities.
• Post-harvest facilities like refrigeration, freezers and cold storage should be accessible to small fisher folk in order to minimize losses due to spoilage.

The KM affirms that there has been a food fish deficit since 2005 and that the country’s fisheries production cannot keep up with the demands of a rapidly- growing population. In 2005, the local demand for fish food was at 2.6 million metric tons; according to figures from the Comprehensive National Fishery Industry Development Plan (CNFIDP), an individual Filipino’s average yearly fish consumptionis 31.4 kilos, so multiply that by 135 millionFilipinos (population by 2025 based on a yearly growth rate of 2.36 percent) and you will have an idea of how many metric tons of fish we will need by 2025. Over-fishing has remained unchecked since the1970’s and by blindly relying on free trade and market forces, we have foolishly exhausted our resources and gone beyond maximum sustainable yields; the average fish catch has declined to only one sixth of what itwas in the 1950s. First the agricultural sector is accursed, now the fisheries industry is on the vergeof collapse. Let us heed the warning of small fisherfolk before it is too late.

Pakistan at first sight

Two days after I landed in Karachi, Pakistan, my mother dreamt I was carrying a basket of red and yellow flowers which alarmed her to no end even as I told her not to worry because only white flowers are portents of doom. That was probably my fault because I waited until the very last minute to tell her that I had accepted an invitation of the Islamabad PolicyResearch Institute to spend a week in Pakistan. She was extremely worried, like everyone else, and wondered why I always choose the most dangerous places to visit. That trip to North Vietnam in 1968 and also in the month of May was brought up as evidence of my recklessness. I promised not to go anywhere near theAfghan border, but apparently, that was no consolation.

I wanted to touch base ( so to speak)n withPakistan as we Filipinos seem to have lost track of this worthy ally. Pakistan Airlines has long suspended its flights to Manila so I took an Emirates airbus and had to change planes in Dubai. The Islamic Republicof Pakistan, a South Asian country with a 1,046 kilometer coastline along the Arabian Sea shares geographical borders with Iran, India, People’sRepublic of China and Afghanistan with whom it has had spiny political and military relations. But that is nothing new to Pakistan because that intriguing part of the world where South and Central Asia and theMiddle East converge has, since the dawn of time, witnessed invasions and settlements of Persians,Greeks, Mongols Arabs, Turks and Afghans.

As you know, Pakistan was part of British India until 1947 when Muhammad Ali Jinnah led a movement for a Muslim homeland comprising the provinces of Sind, West Punjab, Baluchistan, East Bengal and the Northwest Frontier Province. Mr. Jinnah, theQuaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) is revered as the Fatherof the Nation and in Karachi there is an awesome mausoleum done in white marble where his remains are kept. Seven thousand people come daily to pay their respects. According to the Ministry of Information, no one can talk or write against the Founder of the Nation. There are many similarities between Pakistan and the Philippines. Both have gone through periods of military rule and political instability as well as brief moments of economic growth and development. In1971, a civil war in East Pakistan resulted in the independence of Bangladesh . Let us hope the similarities end there as none of us wish to see a fragmented Philippines.

When I last looked, Pakistan and the Philippines were members of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), the impossible dream, and the SEATO (Southeast AsianTreaty Organization) which turned out to be a paper tiger. Today, we are both members of the UnitedNations, the World Trade Organization, and the Groupof 77 developing nations. Pakistan is considered a nuclear power, while we have a nuclear power plantwhich has never been used but for which we have uselessly paid billions of dollars. Pakistan and the Philippines are both destined(or doomed?) to play the precarious and dangerous role of frontline states, at the Arabian Sea and SouthChina Sea, compelled to join pro-Western military alliances, then anti-communist and nowanti-terrorist, that have sucked them into wasteful wars of conflict and intervention. It’s time to takeanother look at Pakistan.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Yesterday, the cost of galunggong, (our index
fish), rose to more than Php102 pesos per kilo at
wet markets in the National Capital Region,
deepening our state of confusion and helplessness.
Is there also a shortage of fish, aside from that of
rice and other basic food stuff, or, is it a shortage
of pesos to buy food? Heads of various government
agencies have always argued that it is cheaper for us
to import food products, rice included, rather than
produce. What if we can no longer afford to buy what
we need? Don
Is there a shortage of fish ? According to the
Kilusang Mangingisda (KM), a coalition of fourteen
national fisher federations, the Comprehensive
National Fishery Industry Development Plan (CNFIDP) ,
prepared jointly by the government and stakeholders
in the domestic fisheries sector, reveal that in 2005,
there was indeed a fish deficit of 205,159 metric
tons which will increase to an estimated 585,000
metric tons by 2025. The average yearly fish deficit
is 403,000 metric tons. Is something being done to
mitigate the inevitable?
The Kilusang Mangingisda (KM) chairman, Bonifacio
Federizo, is of the opinion that the sorry state of
our fisher folk and the fishing industry is largely
due to the destruction and loss of once protected
mangrove areas. Because of that, millions of Filipinos
living in coastal communities who once benefited from
these natural marine nurseries and coastal barriers
have become vulnerable to natural disasters that
include dwindling fish harvests. Mr. Federizo lays
the blame at the doorsteps of the Asian Development
Bank (ADB) and other international finance
institutions (IFIs) for funding environmentally
destructive aquaculture from 1970’s to the 1990.

Apparently, during the above-mentioned period, the ADB
and IFIs offered billions of dollars in loans and
grants to increase fisheries production and trade,
specially of high-value species like tuna and shrimp.
Mr. Bonifacio Federizo, argues that the expansion “of
destructive aquaculture led to a massive loss of
mangrove areas that ultimately led to decreasing
fishery stocks and to the present deficit in the
supply of food fish in the country…Between 1985 and
1989, external assistance given to huge aquaculture
complexes in developing countries averaged to US$
500 million a year,” Mr. Federizo, cited data from the
Food and Aquaculture Organization (FAO) of the United

According to the same source, from 1989 to 1995, the
ADB and the World Bank were the prime supporters of
aquaculture in Asia , accounting for sixty- nine
percent of total foreign funding supporting forty
percent of total projects. The KM leaders say that as
the ADB and World Bank funds fueled the expansion of
intensive aquaculture they unleashed an environmental
catastrophe as mangroves were destroyed to give way
to the large-scale production of shrimp and other
species for both export and major domestic markets,
“Mangrove losses in Southeast Asia was mind-boggling.
“ said Mr. Federizo, “ In Thailand , 203,765
hectares representing fifty-five percent of total
mangrove area were lost. In Vietnam , only 60,000
hectares of an original 200,000 hectares in the Mekong
Delta remain. In the Philippines , only 117,000
hectares remain out of 500,000 hectares of mangroves
in the 1920s. Mangrove conversion to fishponds is the
main reason for the precarious state of our fishing
sector,” Federizo pointed out.
On the other hand, one can also argue that the ADB and
IFI’s are not entirely to blame; guiltier are the
government agencies mandated to protect the
environment but allowed the destruction of mangroves;
guiltier are Filipino investors greedy enough to
sacrifice national interests. Dynamite and cyanide
fishing and other environmentally damaging methods are
committed with impunity.. Even if the ADB and IFI’s
were to see light and strictly require adherence to
international environmental standards, only the
Filipinos can take care of the Philippines.