El Niño, which is leaving many farms parched of water, is also affecting those who live off the country’s waters.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said this today in urging the government to extend its El Niño aid program “from inland places to the sea.”
“Not only farmers, but fishermen are getting hit too,” Recto said, adding that “TV footage of fishponds drying up in Central and Northern Luzon “ back government reports of a large number of fisherfolk affected by the dry spell.”
Compounding the natural calamity, Recto said, “is the man-made disaster of Filipino fishermen being shooed away by Chinese naval might from large sections of their traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea,” Recto said.
Recto said that last February, 100,000 fishermen, “which translates into 500,000 people to include their families,” were already feeling the effects of El Niño, according to a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) bulletin issued that month.
Even then, BFAR had warned that the rise in surface and subsurface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean may reduce by 447,000 tons, or 20 percent, the annual volume of fish caught in the open sea.
The volume of fish caught within 15 kilometers from the shores — or what is called municipal waters – could go down by 279,000 tons or 23 percent.
BFAR also forecasted that El Niño may affect fish catch in 58 provinces.
To its credit, Recto said the “very competent BFAR” has prepared a very good El Niño mitigation plan, “but within the limits of the funds given to it.”
Under BFAR’s plan, P673 million from its own budget will be spent this year to cushion El Niño’s effects on domestic fisheries.
But this amount should now be augmented with money from the P39 billion Calamity Fund, Recto stressed.
Of the P39 billion, P18.9 billion, however, has been earmarked for Yolanda reconstruction, “which means only about P19 billion can be utilized for other calamities, like the El Niño.”
Recto said the national government should now cut red tape, hasten the process and download calamity aid funds to El Niño-hit local governments and frontline agencies like BFAR.
“The fisheries sector deserves that aid because it contributes P200 million to the economy annually,” Recto said.
“Fishermen are also among the poorest of the poor, with two in every three living below the poverty line,” said Recto. “Vulnerable sila. Wala pang kalamidad, mahirap na. Kung ma-double-whammy pa ng El Niño, dapang-dapa na talaga.”
“Yet they provide the 39 kilos of fish that every Pinoy eats annually,” Recto said, citing the per capita marine products consumption per year.
Half of the country’s catch – or about 2.34 million metric tons – come from aquaculture, including fresh- and brackish-water fishponds now affected by the dry spell, Recto said.
Recto believes that the BFAR can help affected fishermen, fishpond workers and owners and fishpen operators for as long as they’re given the resources.
Recto said “as an agency with a large clientele, which are in the millions, and all of them prone to typhoons, BFAR should in the future be a recipient of the QRF.”
He was referring to the P6.7 Quick Response Fund embedded in the regular budget of about a dozen agencies. The fund is separate from the Calamity Fund.
At present, only the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and the National Irrigation Administration are QRF recipients in the agriculture cluster of the government, with each getting P500 million in QRF.