In Defense of Manila Bay’s Humble Protein

January 7, 2022

Filipino fisherfolk have long been defending our waters to put food on every Filipino’s table. This time, the fight floats close to the cities as they struggle for their right to livelihood in the Manila Bay area, food security from their fish products, and ecological balance in the seas. Filipino fishers, who are also our environmental defenders, are on active defense against environmentally destructive projects that could destruct livelihoods and shellfish supply in Metro Manila.

Clean-up or green washing?

The Manila Bay is anything but dead. For the fisherfolk of Cavite, the bay does not only thrive with marine biodiversity, it also nourishes lives as it provides livelihoods and food sources. 

However, in another promulgation to “clean-up” the historic Manila Bay, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in August 2021 announced a new directive that was purportedly part of the government’s rehabilitation efforts. This directive is to dismantle fishing structures, including mussel (tahong) and oyster (talaba) farms in four coastal towns in Cavite – Bacoor City, Cavite City, Kawit, and Noveleta. 

DENR’s Cavite Task Force Group for Manila Bay claimed that bamboo poles from mussel farms were washed along the shores of the Manila Baywalk over the recent monsoon rains, and blamed them for pollution.

The National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organizations in the Philippines (PAMALAKAYA) has long raised doubt on the Duterte government’s rehabilitation objective, which they said was a “sham and a prelude to further privatization of Manila Bay”. While the national government is currently carrying out a rehabilitation campaign, massive reclamation projects which undeniably bring irreversible damage to marine ecosystem are being planned and ongoing across Manila Bay. 

Few days before the dismantling directive, the DENR has set a public hearing for land reclamation projects (also called dump-and-fill) on July 28, 2021. Reclamation projects include four new artificial islands to be built 300 to 600 meters offshore from Cavite City, Kawit, Noveleta, and Rosario in the province of Cavite. Based on the preliminary plan of the DENR, these islands will be built into a modern aerotropolis in the future.

In Bacoor City for instance, which is covered by the dismantling order, the 420-hectare reclamation project has already acquired an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the very same agency that ordered the destruction of productive fishing structures in Manila Bay. More than 700 fisherfolk and coastal families from the town will be relocated to far-flung areas with no livelihood nearby in exchange for commercial and mixed-use district. 

The City of Manila derived its name from a mangrove shrub called “Nilad” which grew along the shorelines. Ironically, these mangroves could no longer be found along the coast of the city. In its place, PAMALAKAYA has recorded a total of 43 reclamation projects covering more than 32, 000 hectares of its productive fishing waters. These projects would also cost the remaining mangrove forests and seagrasses which contribute to marine biodiversity and ecological balance of the bay.

Reclamation defeats the very purpose of rehabilitation because it brings irreversible damage to marine environment. Moreover, these projects entail massive displacement of thousands of fisherfolk and coastal families to their only source of livelihood,” said PAMALAKAYA’s National Chairperson Fernando Hicap, who is also a fisherman in Manila Bay and faces threat of displacement due to impending reclamation project in Cavite.

Opposing the sell-out of the seas

United under the banner of PAMALAKAYA, small fishers who subsist in Manila Bay by culturing shellfish and other mollusk immediately convened to make a stand on the DENR’s dismantling order. Mass campaign was planned with elements of mass actions, government engagements, and public discussions. On its initial consultation, PAMALAKAYA has recorded around 15, 000 fisherfolk affected by the demolition of fishing structures which would include not only mussel and oyster farms, but also passive fishing traps (baklad).

Ahead of the supposed demolition on September 7, PAMALAKAYA mobilized its affected members in Cavite on a protest action outside the central office of the DENR to oppose the demolition order, which the fishers’ group earlier called as “unjust and anti-fisherfolk”.

During the protest, one of the fisherfolk leader refuted the DENR’s claim on the washed bamboo poles: “Why make a fuss on bamboo poles washed along the shores when in the first place, these are not pollutants that can cause damage to marine ecosystem unlike plastic and other solid wastes? It’s a common sense that disposed bamboos will naturally submerge in water and eventually decompose,” said the local fisherfolk leader. 

The fisherfolk scored initial victory when the dismantling of fishing structures did not push through on its target date especially in the areas where the fisherfolk and coastal movements are active in opposing the said directive. The DENR has also announced an indefinite suspension of the demolition.

In the course of this anti-demolition campaign against the destruction of their livelihood, small fisherfolks were able to directly engage government agencies through protest actions. Their position and calls were registered to the concerned government offices and the general public. Through series of online discussions, the fisherfolks garnered broad support and solidarity.

As a result, fisherfolk developed a stronger stand on issues that primarily affect their livelihood. Moreover, the fisherfolks who have been part of the campaign gave stronger commitment to their mass organizations. Their voices have been amplified in the broader public and international networks and advocacies.

As the fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA concluded: “We are never against rehabilitation of Manila Bay. In fact, we are advocates and have been long pursuing for its rehabilitation, a genuine one. A rehabilitation that will restore the marine and fishery resources of Manila Bay for the benefit of small and subsistence fisherfolks and millions of fish-consuming populations. We are opposed to the Duterte government’s rehabilitation façade that is being used as a precursor to total privatization and sell-out of the country’s historic bay,”. 

Still on active-defense, the affected fishers vow to further strengthen their ranks and ultimately stop what they call as environmentally destructive and livelihood threatening projects in the entire Manila Bay in the parliament of the streets, in any appropriate court or forum, or in the court of public opinion. ###