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Arrest Those Killing the Bay, Not the Hungry Fisherfolk

Kim’s Dream Orlan Ravanera
Coastal Communities in Macajalar Bay Now Hungry & the Poorest

It was early dawn on October 6 when I received a call from Task Force Macajalar allies in Alo, El Salvador, Misamis Oriental and was told that three poor fisherfolk who are TFM members namely, Bernardo Besin, Jejun Saguing and Jeckel Sabaon were arrested by a fishery warden named Expedito Quilab for catching “maranay” as fishing “maranay” is prohibited by Fishery Laws. Thus, a case has been filed against them after being brought to the headquarter of the Maritime Police under the command of the amazing Lt.Col. Mario Cristino Lucero, the Chief of Regional Maritime Unit 10.

After having been informed of the arrest of the three young fisherfolk, I could not help but revisit the golden memories I had then with the parents of these arrested guys who in 1990s were always with me in conducting nightly seaborne patrol around the bay to stop 100-tonner commercial fishing boats owned by powerful politicians then. Why must we do that? Well, don’t you know that during those years, it was the height of the grandeur of the bay oozing with fishery and marine resources. We had to arrest those big commercial fishing vessels as they would rake the municipal waters with all kinds of fish and when their vessels were so full of fish and overweight, they would just threw fish back to the sea. As we went around to patrol the bay, we could see dead fishes and we knew then of the abuses committed by these powerful commercial fishing boats.

On several occasions, we were able to arrest those commercial fishing boats and turned them over to the authorities and to our surprise, were just release the following day without even a case filed against the violators. Thus, we in Task Force Macajalar, as deputized fishery wardens, were the ones who filed cases against these culprits/destroyers of the bay.

Indeed, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Maritime Police must be appreciated for enforcing fishery laws but not just against those who are catching fish to feed their hungry families. The coastal communities are now the poorest of the poor and are living in extreme poverty as of the 13 major bays in the country, 10 are already biologically dead. Isn’t it that those who have less in life, should have more in law? Why were we in Task Force Macajalar were so passionate in stopping ecological degradations, taking direct actions to stop massive illegal logging, hydraulic and open-pit mining, industrial pollution and the entry of commercial fishing boats in municipal waters? Let me go back to history.

No less than Dr. Kent Carpenter, the President of the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization IUN-FAO) had described the Philippine Archipelago before as “the center of the center of marine life on earth.” Wow, so amazing! The fisherfolk in Macajalar Bay who were active members of Task Force Macajalar were narrating to me how rich the bay was as fishes would literally jump into their “bancas” in the “50s. Just like the other ecosystems – be forest, agricultural lands oozing with natural wealth – our fishery and marine resources can also be described as part of the “lost eden!” Why? Well, everyone knows that the Philippine Archipelago has just become a dumping ground of toxic garbage from other countries especially from China, Australia, Japan and Korea. We have a very weak Marine Force then that had no capacity to guard fully our vast archipelago as glaringly shown by what’s happening in the West Philippine sea now as Chinese vessels are fishing our sea without let-up just what the Japanese trawlers were doing during the martial law years.

Having founded the Task Force Macajalar in the 90’s to protect the bay and the forest ecosystem, may I now share the silent killers of the bay as well as the other bays in the country. The onset of the rains that is battering Mindanao saw dead fishes floating in the bay particularly near the mouths of the rivers. The culprit are the toxic chemicals coming from the surrounding vast plantations that are heavily using pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Based on my research, of the 8 chemicals being used in these plantations, 7 are already banned in other countries particularly in Puerto Rico. In fact, some of these plantations operating in Mindanao were not allowed to enter Puerto Rico “for causing cancer” especially to the agricultural workers, the reason why they opted to enter our country especially Mindanao where some two hundred thousand hectares, choicest of lands, have been transformed into massive plantations. I was so shocked to know that these massive vast plantations are using chemicals that as if they are dumping to our water tables some two thousand dump trucks of toxic chemicals every day. That‘s the reason why many of new born babies are deformed or why many Mindanawons are dying of cancer. When I visited these countries where these plantations are barred to enter, they asked why we allowed them? Well, the conclusion is that the Philippines is a “nation of coward people.”

These non-biodegradable petroleum-based agricultural inputs are washed from the soil into the rivers and into the bays. Pity the fish but pity more Macajalar Bay. Every time I see Macajalar Bay, I remember the lines of the beautiful poem which begins with “Rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light …” Deep inside I feel the pain and the anger not because of the “dying of the light” but in the impending death of an ecosystem, the natural world of Macajalar Bay whose beauty is both awesome and humbling. The grandeur that is Macajalar Bay from Sulawan Point in Laguindingan to Punta Gorda in Balingasag, speaks well for itself. But the same grandeur is now fast disappearing as it undergoes progressive state of impairment and with it, the marginalization of the coastal populace.

In the opening lines of the poem, ‘Charge of the Light Brigade,”there are cannons at the left of them, cannons at the right of them, cannons facing them”. Such is also true in Macajalar Bay, not cannons but vast plantations. Every day, these plantations are applying chemicals at every stage: applying Nematicide during land preparation, Phosphoric Acid (fungicide), Actara (insecticide) and Duiron and Promacil (herbicide) during pre-planting. Immediately after planting, they apply Duiron and Ametryne. Tons and tons of chemical fertilizers are applied as basal then bombarding the growing crops with foliar fertilizer at 1,500 kgs. per hectare. There are about 48,000 hectares of plantations surrounding Macajalar Bay, multiply these by 1,500 kgs. you imagine 100 trucks dumping chemicals every day in Macajalar Bay as ultimately, these chemicals find their way into the bay and of course, into our water table as these toxic chemicals are non-biodegradable.These toxic chemicals are ingested by fish that cause their sudden death, and if the fish survive with carcinogenic elements in them, these are bio-magnified that find their way into our bodies when we eat fish. Are you still wondering why many are dying of cancer in Cagayan de Oro? Indeed, these poisonous chemicals poison sea life and even entered food chains.

Worse, we strongly suspect that the water table may have already been contaminated by these toxic chemicals. In fact, no less than the former Regional Executive Director of the DENR, my best friend, Dr. Raoul Geollegue suspected that our drinking water have been contaminated already. If that be so, then, we can aptly say, “drink now, die later.” Following the precautionary principle, we in Task Force Macajalar have been clamoring that our water table be examined as the Cagay-anons may be drinking or bathing or using water for cooking which are already contaminated with these toxic chemicals. But until now, such plea falls on deaf ears. One day, the people of Cagayan de Oro will wake-up and only then that such horrible reality be promptly checked or face the collective anger of the deceived people.

As if these chemicals are not yet enough to kill the bay, there are other death blows such as industrial pollution as the bay is treated by surrounding industries as their waste pit. The bay is also a victim of soil erosion and siltation. What men do in the uplands affects the life in the sea. Because trees were logged by the powerful loggers which left hundred thousands of hectares denuded, soil has been eroding and washing in the silted rivers and into the bay. The eroded soil or silts has harmed sea life, coral reefs and cause fish and other organisms to die.

Our fisherfolk and their families have been painfully witnessing the fading away of the bay’s fishery and aquatic resources. They are vehemently condemning the massive ecological degradation as such deprives them of their legitimate livelihood. Let us not sacrifice the Bay to the altar of greed and profit. Indeed, as has been said, “only when you have cut the last tree, only when you have dried the last river, only when you have caught the last fish, only then will you realize that you cannot eat your money.” We must now be one and stand to protect Macajalar Bay, and all the bays in the Philippines as the coastal communities are now hungry and becoming the poorest of the poor.

BFAR and Maritime Police, the hungry poor fisherfolk are not the ones killing the bay. The loggers, the miners, the surrounding factories that are treating the bay as their “waste pit” and the hundreds of thousand of hectares of massive plantations using chemicals which are already banned in other countries. Don’t zero-in on arresting the poor fisherfolk as everyday their malnourished children are crying out of hunger. Unlike those powerful culprits who are sacrificing the bay for greed and profit, these poor fisherfolk are catching fish to feed their hungry children. Yes, it is now the season of the”Maranay” also known as “Bolinao”. It has always been difficult for them to catch fish with the demise of the bay. Thus, they are happy to catch fish and what comes to mind is to catch the fish for their hungry children and are puzzled no end when you arrest them. Ah, prohibited? How about those killing the bay? Where are they? In their mansions?


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