The Philippines is known for its diverse marine ecosystem. Many fisherfolks have tapped into this rich resource to provide food for their fellow countrymen and earn an honest living. But despite the rich marine life, municipal fishermen are among the most under-recognized groups in the country. 

Roberto Ballon, a 53-year-old fisherman from Zamboanga Sibugay, hopes to break this stigma against fishermen and revitalize his community’s aquatic resources, which supply their primary source of livelihood. 

Fondly known as Ka Dodoy, he started Kapunungan sa Gamay Nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC) in 1986 along with 30 other fisherfolk to focus on mangrove reforestation for the benefit of marine ecosystems. 

Roberto Ballon, a 53-year-old fisherman from Zamboanga Sibugay, won the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Award. (Photo from Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

His efforts recently landed him the 63rd Ramon Magsaysay Award. The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation recognized Ka Dodoy for reviving the fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment that inspired and empowered his fellow fishermen to follow in his footsteps. 

The Ramon Magsaysay Award is considered Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Ka Dodoy is the first fisherman to bag the recognition. 

Starting a meaningful organization 

KGMC started as a small organization with only Ka Dodoy and several other members. Yet its number of members didn’t deter the group from its goal of creating a sustainable marine environment that will revive the fishing industry while preserving natural resources and empowering fisherfolks. 

According to Ka Dodoy, their group revolves around three programs to help them achieve their objectives. 

The first is people empowerment. This program helps secure the strength and capability of the group through various capacity-building training and seminars given to them by the government, non-government organizations, academe, and other institutions. 

Second is their environmental protection program. As the chairman of KGMC, Ka Dodoy made it his group’s mission to protect environmental resources and give back to nature to secure sustainability.

Lastly, KGMC’s third program focuses on creating sustainable livelihoods that could help their community rise against poverty. 

All these programs help Ka Dodoy and his group remain steadfast in their vision of an improved fishing industry that keeps the welfare of both the environment and fisherfolk in mind. 

Utilizing the benefits of mangroves 

Mangroves are known for their environmental benefits such as preventing soil erosion and how their roots provide shelter to several marine species. Ka Dodoy and his group are among those who recognized the advantages of having mangroves in their vicinity. 

After seeing how rampant fishpond conversion was and how the mangrove forests were destroyed after the business collapsed, Ballon and his group focused their efforts on mangrove reforestation.

With the help of the mangroves, KGMC saw that many marine species flock to the area to find shelter among the trees’ roots. There, they catch what they need to earn an income while allowing the rest of the marine population to copulate and increase their numbers to avoid endangerment. 

Some of the marine species that the group catches include crabs, fish, and shellfish. 

Because their community benefits greatly from the presence of mangrove trees, Ka Dodoy and his group started educational campaigns to help raise awareness of the importance of mangroves in an ecosystem. They also encourage participants to join in mangrove planting activities to increase the number of trees in the country so that more people can see their potential. 

Under Ka Dodoy, KGMC also conducts routine inspections on their mangrove to monitor the status of their mangroves and prevent illegal cuttings. 

To secure the sustainability of their mangrove trees, KGMC also utilizes various propagation techniques to secure the survivability of the trees so that they can produce more for future generations. They also train the next generations to care for mangroves so that they too can enjoy the benefits that come from the trees. 

Eventually, through their perseverance, Ka Dodoy and KGMC attracted government support and were granted tenurial rights to the reforested land under a government forestry co-management program. From the 50 hectares that they replanted in 1994, the total area grew to 500 hectares of mangrove forests by 2015. 

Now, KGMC has 320 members and their success has led to other projects. The group also partnered with the municipal government where KGMC members were deputized to conduct the local Bantay Dagat or Sea Patrol volunteer program that protects municipal waters from illegal fishing and mangrove logging.

What may have started as a small initiative turned into a growing organization led by the ideals and values of one man. As the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Foundation Awardee, Ka Dodoy has proven that the efforts of one man and a small group can lead to great achievements that can change the face of an industry and secure natural resources for the future generations to enjoy. 

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