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n 1992, when Republic Act 7160, better known as the Local Government Code, was implemented, many local executives were reluctant to assume the new responsibilities mandated on them by the Code. Funding was the major constraint: the Code devolved several functions - and personnel - from the national agencies to the local governments. It did not however provide, or so it seemed, for the transfer of enough new money to cover the additional financial burden that accompanied the devolved responsibilities. Also, many local governments lacked the technical capability to assume their new functions. This was especially true for coastal resource management, which involves a myriad of interlocking problems that cuts across many sectors. In any case, coastal resource management was never a popular issue among local officials to begin with, and understandably so. Often, coastal resource management translates to increased regulation of peoples access to already scarce resources. The very idea does not, as one mayor has put it, generate votes, and can in fact jeopardize an officials prospects for reelection.
This signage in Bgy Cambinoy, Palompon exhorts people to "do more and get things done."
There have been encouraging developments since then, however. A number of local governments have taken bold steps in addressing recurring issues that in the past hindered the sustained implementation of coastal resource management in their areas. Success stories about mayors who have taken the lead in combating illegal fishing now abound, reflecting a change in attitude among local governments about coastal development and their role in it. This change came about as a result of a continuing education and advocacy program being undertaken by the national government to equip local officials for their role as frontline custodians and managers of coastal resources.
One such success story is being written in Palompon, one of the oldest towns in Leyte, by Mayor Ramon Oñate and his vice mayor, Eulogio Tupa. Palompon has successfully implemented and institutionalized environmental reforms through what Oñate and Tupa call the Environmental Amelioration for Sustainable Development Program, or EASDP.
Risking votes: Mayor Onate, shown here inspecting a buoy in his office, and Vice Mayor Tupa, inset, made an unpopular choice when they supported the seasonal ban on siganid fishing. The project's success eventually convinced people of the wisdom of conservation, and won for Onate and Tupa a second term.
A calculated risk
EASDP was started in 1995, the result of multi-sectoral consultations that sought to address Palompons worsening illegal fishing problem, which had already reduced the catch of danggit (Siganid spinosus), a dominant fish species and primary source of livelihood in the municipality. It has several components, including mangrove rehabilitation and law enforcement through the Bantay Dagat, a citizens sea watch group. But one component, originally conceptualized by the vice mayor himself, had the most immediate impact on Palompon residents: a closed season for danggit, to be implemented on the 4th, 5th and 6th days before the new moon in February, March and April, believed to be the peak spawning season for siganids. Not unexpectedly, the people - both fishers and consumers alike - opposed the proposal, which they feared would further reduce the supply of their favorite fish, an already scarce resource.
A makeshift observation station for members of the Bantay Danggit.
For Oñate and Tupa, the danggit ban was a calculated risk. Had we implemented it close to election year, or had it been only a modicum of success, the program would have cost us a lot of votes, Oñate says.
But they were determined to succeed, despite the many constraints they faced. The Bantay Dagat lacked manpower and resources, so Oñate and Tupa embarked on an information and education campaign to rally support for the program. Soon, more and more people were won over, some joining members of the law enforcement team that patrolled the coasts to enforce the ban, others contributing snacks for the team and volunteers.
In less than a year, fishers started to notice an increase in their danggit catch. In two years, the catch had increased threefold, from 3-4 kg for 10 hours of fishing effort before the seasonal ban was implemented to 4-6 kg for 6-8 hours of fishing effort in 1997. Soon, the local market was literally flooded with danggit, and fish vendors had to find ways to dispose of the excess stock. The result was the emergence of a new enterprise: the processing of the extra catch into boneless danggit, a delicacy served at breakfast or as finger food, which has generated additional income for fishers and fish vendors.
Sea patrol headquarters
Typically, a fisher catches an average of 5.5 kg of danggit per day, which could be processed into 1.3 kg of boneless danggit. A kilo of fresh danggit currently sells at P40, while boneless danggit sells at a retail price of P330 per kg. The fisher can therefore earn an extra P170 for every 4 kg of fresh danggit that he processes into boneless danggit.
Other opportunities are opening up: the local government is currently studying ways to produce salable products from danggit wastes - that is, intestines and bones - which have increased in volume as a result of the brisk trade in boneless danggit. The intestines can be fermented into dayok or bagoong (fish paste), which sells at P35 a bottle, while the bones are processed into kropeck (fish crackers) or fertilizer. At a conversion ratio of 4 kg of fresh fish to 1 kg of boneless danggit, there is enough material to process into by-products, with promising prospects.
A memorandum circular sets the sea patrol's schedule
Meanwhile, the other components of EASDP have come on line, further boosting the danggit program. The Bantay Dagat has made some great strides in the campaign against dynamite fishing. Tabuk Island was declared a Bird and Fish Sanctuary, increasing once dwindling wild duck population in the area to 2,000. The use of superlights and other destructive fishing gears has been banned, and so have the extraction of corals and the cutting of mangroves. Meanwhile, residents have begun pitching in to rehabilitate Palompons mangroves - in 1997, some 2,000 volunteers participated in a day-long tree-planting activity organized by the local government.
Recognition came soon after. In 1997, the EASDP received the Galing Pook Award from the Asian Institute of Management, which commended the municipality of Palompon for having restored, protected and managed [its] marine resources through the passage and strict enforcement of municipal ordinances related to the environment, massive IEC [information, education and communication] campaigns, networking and community organizing for livelihood projects.
For Oñate and Tupa, however, the greatest reward came in 1998, when they sought reelection. During the campaign, their political opponents made an issue out of the danggit ban and other projects which allegedly affected the livelihood of many residents. Undaunted, Oñate and Tupa presented voters a simple choice: they could vote to go back to the old ways of destructive fishing and risk losing their source of livelihood, or they could vote for a new but already tested way of managing marine resources for better and more sustainable fish harvests, mangrove forests teeming with birds, and a healthier quality of life.
The rest is history: Oñate and Tupa, more popular than during their first term, were reelected by a landslide vote.