New DA chief dared to protect aquatic resources, fisherfolk’s welfare

Published September 19, 2019, 7:02 PM

by CJ Juntereal

By Ellson Quismorio

Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza has challenged newly appointed Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar to do a better job than his predecessors as far as caring for the country’s aquatic resources and protecting fisherfolk’s welfare are concerned.

A fisherman checks his net the day before the ‘No sail zone’ is implemented along Manila Bay as part of the security preparations for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. The Department of the Interior Local Government announced that all types of sea vessels will not be allowed to operate along Manila Bay starting today, Nov. 5 up to Nov. 16. (Czar Dancel | Manila Bulletin)
A fisherman checks his net. (Czar Dancel | Manila Bulletin file photo)

“Now we ask Secretary Dar – do you accept the challenge of doing a far better job in helping our poor fishermen than previous DA managers?” Atienza asked during his interpellation on the DA’s proposed budget for 2020 at the House plenary.

Sponsoring and defending the DA’s budget on the floor was Nueva Vizcaya lone district Rep. Luisa Cuaresma, although Dar himself was present during the proceedings.

“Our country has been blessed with abundant aquatic resources, and yet until now, our fisherfolk are still on the lowest rung of our economy. Mahirap na mahirap pa din sila hanggang ngayon (Up to now they are still very poor),” said Atienza, a member of the Minority Bloc.

“We tried personally helping them by liberating our water bodies that have been overrun by fishpens and fish cages owned by big corporations and some of them are even foreigners. But ironically, it was the DA then that prevented us from succeeding,” he continued.

“We are not arguing in pesos and cents. We know that the budget being given the department is not enough. We are talking about attitude and personal commitment needed to get the job done. Baka si Secretary Dar ang makapagbibigay ng aksyon na kailangan (Maybe it’s Secretary Dar who can deliver the needed action).”

From a budget request of P333 billion, the DA was only granted an allocation of P71 billion for next year by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Dar, through Cuaresma, agreed with the points raised by Atienza and vowed to act on the critical issues affecting our fisherfolk. The party-list solon appreciated the gesture of Dar, who assumed his current position only last August.

Atienza pointed out that Laguna de Bay, the biggest freshwater lake in Asia with an area of 99,000 hectares, used to be the major source of fish supply for Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces.

However, decades of mismanagement and abuse have led to the degradation and pollution of the lake, contributing to the poor quality of fish and steady decline of production.

“The corruption that goes on in managing Laguna de Bay should not continue. The lake belongs to everyone in Metro Manila and Southern Luzon, not just to a few rich individuals. Why are we allowing this?” Atienza asked.

He underscored that President Duterte himself had ordered in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) the removal of fishpens and fish cages from Laguna Lake by December, 2016.

“What happened to the President’s order? Until now the Laguna the Bay is full of illegal structures. The job lies in the hands of the executive – from the President down to the DA and BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources),” noted the former three-term Manila mayor.

Turning to Dar, Atienza said: “You must help our fishermen by removing corruption and performing your task of cleaning, managing, improving and developing our water bodies. We are all here to serve the public interest.”

“You will be the best DA secretary ever if you can clean our water bodies. You have the best credentials, you must prove it now with decisive action,” he stressed.

This is Dar’s second stint as DA chief.