The Non-government organization for Fisheries Reform (NFR) has voiced out concerns regarding the “40-meter no-build zones” prounounced by the national government as part of the rehabilitation efforts of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who was designated as the Presidential Adviser for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, clarified that the 40-meter area should be interpreted as “no-dwelling zones.” If implemented, the policy will affect 126 coastal municipalities in 13 provinces and will displace 252,688 fishing households based on a conservative estimate of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).
More than a month after Yolanda ravaged fishing communities in the Visayas, NFR spoke with key fisher leaders in Tacloban City, Palo and Baybay in Leyte; Guiuan, Balangiga, Hernani and Giporlos in Eastern Samar; Carles, San Dionisio, Concepcion and Batad in Northern Iloilo; and Sta. Fe, Madridejos and Bantayan in Cebu.
Anticipating widespread resettlement of fishermen, the coalition facilitated the formulation of basic parameters that implementing government agencies, either the local government units or national government agencies, should consider. Last hear was the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) began mapping out the 40-meter in Tacloban City and Municipality of Palo in Leyte.
The fishing communities observed that there is something “fishy” in the government’s shift of the their definition of the “40-meter no build zones.” Although, according to them, the government is serious on protecting the people from storm surges but at the same time allow the proliferation of beach resorts and other industries in areas supposedly to be off-limits. Without further scrutiny on the lack of legal basis for the “40-meter no build zones,” it should be reviewed all the more.
Interestingly, most of the fishermen in Tacloban City, Municipality of Guiuan and the Bantayan Islands agree to be resettled if safe and decent relocation sites and houses are available.
In several consultations by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) and the NAPC in 2012, fishermen hinted that they would agree to resettlement of up to 100 meters away from the danger zones. However, this is still dependent on the availability and the location of the land, whether it is within geological hazard zones.
The government needs to understand is that their lives are intrinsically linked to the sea just as farmers are to their lands. They get their sustenance and income from the sea. They also play critical roles in resource management by organizing themselves into fish wardens (Bantay Dagat) who are responsible for apprehending violators such as those engaged in dynamite and cyanide fishing and commercial fishing vessels encroaching into the 15-kilometer municipal waters.
By recognizing their important roles in fisheries management, fishermen should be secured of their access especially of that contested resource called “salvage and easement zones.” These are areas that are traditionally used by fishermen as docking sites for their boats and areas for mending nets and keeping safe their fishing gears. As for women, the foreshore lands are traditionally used as sites for seaweeds and fish drying, among others.
These could not be possible if private beach resorts would take over the foreshore areas that later on will eventually be fenced off and virtually privatized as what happened in most coastlines near Metro Manila. Access to the sea is one of the key factors to successfully implement resettlement of fishermen.
The DENR should complete its mapping of the whole stretch of coastlines, including both mangrove and beach forests, that would form the basis for the establishment of coastal greenbelts. These “green structures” should be considered in the over-all rehabilitation and reconstruction plan of the government. The DA-BFAR, should rethink its policy of converting abandoned and undeveloped fishponds into aquasilviculture areas given the higher benchmarks set by Yolanda.