Sen. Risa Hontiveros has called on the Senate to pass the measure seeking incentives and benefits for the country’s “sea wardens” who are mostly fisherfolk who work with local and national agencies in conserving, protecting, and managing the country’s marine resources.
Hontiveros said Senate Bill No. 1919 or the proposed “Bantay Dagat Welfare and Incentives Act” aims to give due recognition to accredited “Bantay Dagat” volunteers across the nation.
“Panahon na na mabigyan sila ng karapat-dapat na suporta (It’s time that we give them the rightful support that they need),” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“These volunteers receive no regular honoraria and are rarely given insurance and coverage benefits despite the hazards they face, the time spent protecting municipal waters, and the loss of income opportunities,” she added.
The bill seeks to grant insurance and PhilHealth coverage, hazard allowance, subsistence allowance, training and career enrichment programs, and access to loans to sea guardians and also enables them to enjoy security of tenure.
Under the bill, Bantay Dagat volunteers shall not be removed or terminated except for just and valid causes as determined by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
The bill also mandates local government units (LGUs) to allocate regular funding for Bantay Dagat volunteers and their operational requirements.
“Our fisherfolk communities are at the frontlines of climate change…This gives all the more reason, to not only recognize their noble work, but also to provide tangible support. Bigyan natin ng dignidad ang kanilang ginagawa para sa ating bayan (Let’s dignify what they are doing for the country),” the lady senator said.
The lawmaker also underscored the importance of appointing Bantay Dagat volunteers especially within municipalities along contested waters, such as the West Philippine Sea, to aid in government surveillance efforts against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
She also said it is high-time that the government beefs up its capacity to ward off incursions in the WPS. The Philippines lost P200-billion worth of marine resources due to China’s adventurism in the WPS, she pointed out.
“Dahil sa mga artificial islands na itinayo ng Tsina sa ating karagatan, nasira ang mga reef ecosystems, ang tirahan ng mga isda (Because of these artificial islands that China built in our seas, it damaged our reef ecosystems). What used to be a bountiful area for our fisherfolk is now gone,” the senator explained.
Hontiveros stressed the Bantay Dagat bill is an important step towards encouraging and giving recognition to the importance of community participation in the protection of the country’s maritime resources.
“But government must further arm itself through modernizing and upping our defense capability towards the protection of Philippine waters,” she said.
“Nakahanda ang mga komunidad magbantay, palakasin din ang pagbabantay ng gobyerno (The community is ready to stand guard, I hope the government does its part by strengthening security in these areas).”