Local fishers bring complaints to UN-FAO
    Cite ‘slave work’ of 300,000 fishery workers, displacement of 3.9 million folk

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    ANGELES CITY– The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UN-FAO) ended Monday its four-day consultation-workshop in the country with a revelation that some 300,000 Filipino fishery workers “toil like slaves” in aquaculture farms and on commercial fishing vessels for pay below minimum wage.

    The gathering also brought to the attention of UN-FAO fears on the displacement of some 3.9 million fishermen and residents in the implementation of the Laguna Lake Master Plan alone, among other concerns.

    Also noted in the gathering were studies indicating that majority of the country’s “poorest of the poor” are now found in coastal areas.

    Thus, some 50 representatives of fisherfolk associations and other non-government organizations appealed to officials of the UN-FAO “to discover for themselves why small-scale fishermen in the country belong to the poorest of the poor despite the country’s rich marine resources.”

    The open invitation was extended by leaders of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) during the Philippine Consultation and Workshops on UN -FAO Vision Guidelines on Small-Scale Fisheries held in Quezon City from January 27-30.

    The holding of the affair was endorsed by the World Forum of Fisher People (WFPP), of which Pamalakaya is a member.

    The UN- FAO is developing international guidelines that would further promote the rights of small-scale fishermen under the human rights approach, said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.

    Hicap urged UN- FAO to send to the country its special rapporteur on the right to food Oliver de Schutter “to conduct a thorough investigation on the poverty of small fisherfolk and the destruction of fish sources across the country.”

    “Development projects such as eco-tourism and ecozone projects funded by foreign capital promote destruction of fishery resources and further violate the rights of small fisherfolk all over the country,” Hicap reported during the meeting.

    Hicap said the four-day affair came to the conclusion that “the poorest of the poor in the Philippines are found in coastal communities.” No specifics on this was immediately disclosed.

    “The participants said small-scale fisheries production in the country is characterized by backward, scattered and small-scale production which is reflective of the very low level of technology in capture fisheries,” he added.

    Hicap said the participants noted that such backwardness “is further compounded or complicated by the high cost of production in fish capture, thus- making life more miserable to poor fishing families.”

    “They also complained the zero-institutional support of the national and local governments and their agencies to small fisherfolk and they noted that only the commercial fishing and aquaculture sector receive financial subsidies from the government in the form of oil subsidies, tax holidays and capital support due to their engagement in the exportation of fishery items to foreign countries,” Hicap reported.

    The participants also complained to the UN-FAO “the monopoly control of big fishing interest to fishing boats and other fishing technologies and capital in fisheries allow them to harvest more at the expense of small fisherfolk and to the detriment of marine environment.”

    The UN-FAO has been holding consultation-workshops in 24 countries, including marine- rich fishing nations like Pakistan, Thailand, India and Costa Rica where the livelihood and economic rights of small-scale fisheries are reported to be threatened by current global developments such as the privatization and conversion of communal fishing areas.

    Hicap said Filipino participants in the recent gathering “cited several projects highly inimical to small-scale fisheries like the Laguna Lake Master Plan which involve 54 major projects and would displace about 3.9 million fishermen and residents along the lake.”

    “Manila Bay Master Development Plan that involve the privatization and conversion of the bay, the offshore mining for oil and gas in West Philippine Sea, the widespread black sand mining in Lingayen Gulf, Zambales and Aurora in Central Luzon, Cagayan, Albay, Eastern Visayas, Negros and Panay Island and the mush rooming of eco-tourism driven fish sanctuaries in Central Visayas and other parts of Luzon and Mindanao,” Hicap also reported during the gathering.

    Hicap also cited the case of Aurora Pacific Economic and Free Port zone project in Aurora province and the Pampanga Delta Development Project in Pampanga and some parts of Bulacan province which, he noted, “deserve the attention of UN –FAO, as these projects also adversely affect “fish sources and fisherfolk livelihood.”

    Pamalakaya leaders and their NGO partners also raised “the need to provide production and oil subsidies to small fisherfolk in the country.”

    “A comprehensive program that would improve the level of technology and production is needed to make sure the fish need of over 100 million Filipinos is supplied by local production,” Hicap said.

    Pamalakaya has been batting for a yearly P 32-billion oil subsidy for small fisherfolk with small fishing boats and paddle-driven bancas “to mitigate the impact of unbridled increases in the prices of petroleum products.”

    Pamalakaya has also urged the government “to immediately provide relief and pursue rehabilitation of small fishing communities ravaged by yearly disasters and calamities, and assistance should be in the form of grant and not loan to affected fishers.”

    “We have also urged UN-FAO to investigate the sorry plight of fish workers in the commercial and aquaculture sectors who are overworked but underpaid receiving way below wages from the minimum wage prescribed by law.

    Pamalakaya said about 300,000 fish workers in the country worked like slaves inside aquaculture farms and aboard commercial fishing vessels receiving an average of P 200 per day way below the P 427 minimum wage (in Metro Manila),” Hicap said.

    The participants to the UN- FAO affair came from Aurora and Bulacan in Central Luzon, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte in Region 1, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon and Palawan provinces in Southern Tagalog Region, Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate in Bicol Region, Cebu in Central Visayas, Iloilo and Capiz in Panay Island and Northern Mindanao region.

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