From Mon Oct 29 16:48:32 2001
Date: Sun, 28 Oct 2001 12:37:37 -0600 (CST)
From: IBON Reach Expansion Department <>
Subject: [ibon] IBON Features #40: Puerto Galera, A Paradise No More For
Article: 129271
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Puerto Galera, a paradise no more for fisherfolk

By Mirian Azurin, IBON Features, 28 October 2001

IBON Features—The Chinese proverb which states that it is the beautiful bird that gets caged holds true in Puerto Galera.

A popular tourist spot on the island of Mindoro because of its fine beaches, Puerto Galera is also home to the likes of Alexander Mejia, who has been into fishing since as far as he can remember. Alex, as he is known in Sitio Maniknik, Balatero, was not able to finish schooling, a fault which he hopes would not befall his five children. Through hard work and determination, he was able to built a house, send his children to school, and invest in four boats.

This dream, however, transformed into a nightmare when the town Mayor Aristeo Atienza seized Alex's boats last month. The mayor's reason for confiscating his vessels and equipment was because he was fishing illegally.

They destroy the corals by stamping on them with plywood on their feet, Mayor Atienza said in an interview.

But according to the fisherfolk, the plywood is just an improvised flipper used to make swimming swift. Sabi'y dinudurog daw namin ang korals. Maaari bang durugin namin yon? Pa'no ang mga isda? Pa'no na kami mangingisda? Ka Alex exlplains, At hindi naming maintindihan kung bakit hinuli kami gayong nasa wastong fishing erya naman kami.

Since that day, around 70 families, whose men go fishing with him, have fought for their daily survival. Ka Alex's is just one of the 150 families in Sitio Maniknik, Balatero, whose livelihood depends on fishing.

Fishing in Puerto Galera was prohibited to preserve the spectacle of marine diversity in the area, after tourists flocked in by waves in the 80's.

Fishermen were only allowed to loosen their nets on a small water area from Manila Channel to Talipana, which covers only a fourth of the province's water area. Locals say that the limited fishing areas cannot yield an income enough to support a family. Thus, most of them are forced to join commercial fishing vessels headed to Palawan. A trip like this, they say, would expose them in the dangers of deep-sea fishing and separate them from their families for about a month and a half in exchange for only P2,500.

Pamalakaya, a militant fisherfolk organization, says that the real reason behind the arrests and prohibition is to preserve the fish not for the people, but for the business ventures of the infuential people in Puerto Galera who have significant control over the mayor.

Endowed with natural harbours, crystal clear waters off white sand beaches and mountain ranges, Puerto Galera is known to be one of the most dazzling tourist attractions in the country. But apart from drawing tourists, it has also enticed some of the most famous business clans to fence big chunks of land and vital coastal shores for private interests. The Tourism Development Plan (TDP), being pushed by the municipal office, is a grandiose profiteering tourist-dependent business hatched by the Locsins and Ayala-Zobels, says Beth Cabrera, chairperson of the Southern Tagalog chapter of Pamalakaya.

It is well-known that the Locsins and Ayala-Zobels own a significant portion of Puerto Galera. Consequently, they hold considerable political patronage in the area for more than a decade. In fact, a common jest among residents is that there are three existing municipal offices in Puerto: the one in munisipyo de Muelle (where the real mayor's office stands), munisipyo de Sto. Niqo (where the resthouse of the Ayalas is located) and munisipyo de Talipanan (location of the resthouse of the Locsins). The munisipyo de Muelle is reputed to be unable to make any decision without consulting the two other municipal offices.

Sources estimate that the Locsins own 400-800 hectares of land, but Locsins have only admitted owning 182 hectares scattered in Sto. Niqo, Poblacion, Balatero and San Isidro. San Antonio, a 112 hectare island-barangay, is fenced all over to mark the Locsin estate. The Ayalas, on the other hand, have substantial control over 2,600 hectares based on lands named under the Ayala Foundation.

The TDP aims to be a world-class tourist destination with a glamorous hotel, yacht club, and diving facilities. In the end, the plan will only benefit the rich and the famous who can afford such amenities.

The TDP also includes other component projects such as the expansion of Balatero Port, water metering, construction of seaport-to-airport roads, and development of tourism facilities in Tamaraw Falls.

Fishermen are wary that apart from the fishing prohibition, the extensive coastal conversion will also displace the communities along the bay and will destroy the natural marine habitat. They say water pollution from large shipping vessels may not be controlled once the Balatero Port becomes a major harbor.

Cabrera denounced the municipal government for catering to profit-oriented powers at the expense of the marginalized residents who would be further be pushed into the margins because of the massive land grabbing, lost of livelihood and socio-cultural violence that such a large-scale tourism will bring upon the people of Puerto Galera.