By Manny Piñol
Dumangas, Iloilo – Oyster farmers, small fisher folks and fishpond owners in this sea resource-rich town of Iloilo Province have opposed the establishment of a fuel depot in its coast close to the fishponds and oyster farms saying a calamity like an earthquake could result in the devastation of their livelihood.
In a forum held in a Bangus Hatchery owned by Iloilo Fishers Association President Baby Hautea, the oyster farmers and fisher folks led by their barangay officials expressed vehement opposition to the plan of an oil company to establish a fuel depot in the area.
“We could recover even if a typhoon will destroy our fishponds and oyster farms. But what if an earthquake would damage the depot and cause an oil spill? That would kill everything in this bay and we will never be able to recover,” a barangay official told me during the forum.
Dumangas Mayor Ronaldo Golez said that while the town is interested in inviting investors to come to the town, he will respect the position of the people who depend on the sea for their livelihood.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Regional Office in Western Visayas has also opposed the construction of the fuel depot because it will be located near Bangus hatcheries, fishponds, oyster farms and the rich fishing grounds of Dumangas.
In front of the fisher folks yesterday, I signed an endorsement of the BFAR position paper to Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor.
To support the fisher folks and oyster farmers, including farmers in the areas away from the coast, I made a commitment of a P20-M livelihood fund through the Production Loan Easy Access which will be made available to the farmers and fisher folks to enable them to improve their productivity.
Dumangas is one of the richest oyster production area of Panay Island and has about 4,500 hectares of fishponds.
Mayor Golez also asked for support in developing some 500 hectares of abandoned fishponds into a mangrove replanting area where the poor families could grow crabs.
The project received a commitment of support from the Agriculture Department and I instructed DA Regional Director Remelyn Recoter and BFAR 6 Director Remia Aparri to support the farmers and fisher folks in establishing a “Bakawan” nursery whose production of mangrove planting materials will be paid for by the Department.
It was a moment of jubilation for the small fisher folks who said that for the first time they felt that government really listen to them and protected their livelihood against the interests of big business.
(Map of Panay Island downloaded from wikipedia while photos of yesterday’s forum with fisher folks and the beautiful skyline photo of Dumangas taken by Alan Jay Jacalan, DA-AFID)