It’s been one year since the Duterte administration held the reins of the Executive Department. As our President, Rodrigo Duterte is considered the most powerful person in the land. He has brought in massive changes in government policies, some of which had been most controversial and divisive such as the extrajudicial killings, the burial of the former dictator and the martial law declaration in Mindanao.
He is criticized to be acting like a mayor of the entire country with his unpopular stance of leaning towards China and sleeping on the victorious arbitration ruling which favored the Philippines’ claim over the Scarborough Shoal. But he has managed to convince his allies in politics to support him all the way.
For us, advocates for the protection of human rights and our planet, it’s been one exhilarating ride as one can imagine. Just like most members of the civil society sector, we warmly welcome the President’s appointment of Gina Lopez to the critical environment post. Gina Lopez was the only head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with the boldness of a leader who wanted to do things right, for the present and future generations, through action. She suspended mining permits of companies alleged to have violated the conditions of their franchise. That earned her the ire of the affected sectors. Despite unity and intense push for her to be retained, civil society members had to accept that it was a political decision that they had no control of.
It was a positive move for the President to show flexibility when, after saying the opposite, he signed the accession document to the Paris Agreement and forwarded the same to the Philippines Senate for ratification which our Senators did this year. This augurs well for the country to move faster into the pathway for sustainability in energy, agriculture, fisheries, transportation and other sectors.
Yet we are aware that there are applications for more climate change–causing coal-fired power plants to be built in this mega-diverse country, despite our notoriety of failing to ensure the rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology are not violated. This is a test if this administration walks the talk of prioritizing the life, health and well-being of the constituents over purely economic interests. In the Philippines, the province of Negros Occidental is leading the way for renewable energy revolution to take place. It is considered the solar power capital in the country, with seven solar power facilities as of 2016.
How is the Duterte administration faring for in fisheries management? The response would be dependent on which agencies in the executive branch are involved in performing the mandates of the law. The President exercises the power of control over the agriculture department and fisheries bureau, the environment department (for marine protected areas) as well as the interior and local government. He has the power of supervision over the local government units by ensuring that their actions are within the scope of their authority. These various agencies impact how fisheries laws and policies are adopted, implemented and enhanced.
The top honchos in the agriculture department and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources are displaying political will in enforcement, crafting the necessary rules for the various mandates under the amended Fisheries Code and integrating science in decision-making. Their Malinis at Masaganang Karagatan Award is a commendable incentive scheme as among the criteria for evaluation of the LGUs include not allowing illegal fishing, declaration of marine protected areas, solid waste management and effective mangrove protection and rehabilitation program.
However, the President should break new grounds in instilling a mind-set of shared responsibility among coastal local government units over the municipal waters over which they are vested the power and the duty. There is a pervasive failure in enforcing the fisheries laws, fighting illegal commercial and destructive fishing and ensuring that the rights of the artisanal fisherfolk to have preferential access to their fishing grounds are respected. Only a handful are exemplary local leaders in our midst, to the prejudice of their constituents in the coastal communities.
By allowing the banned commercial fishing in the municipal waters or turning their heads the other way, these local chief executives are not only violating the mandates of their office; they are allowing grossly unfair competition to arise between commercial and artisanal fishers. The poorest of the poor, our fisherfolk are suffering in silence, muffled by the glaring impunity and indifference to their sad plight.
As two-thirds of our richest fishing grounds are already overexploited, it is high time for all stakeholders to collaborate and work together for the fish populations to bounce back.
We owe it to the children and their children to leave them a future which does not compromise their “ability… to meet their own needs.”
We should never forget that everyone’s health is dependent on a healthy and vibrant ocean.
Meanwhile, the stirring struggle for sustainability continues.