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Aquatic resources merit more attention

Aquatic resources merit more attention
September 01, 2019

For people living in an island nation, our orientation seems overly focused on land rather than on water. We do not pay enough attention or give enough importance to our oceans, rivers and other bodies of water. Until we fully appreciate all our natural resources, we will miss out on economic and development opportunities. We are limiting ourselves when we overlook or take for granted half our country’s area, which is water.

This oversight, or perhaps neglect, is evident in the scope of our anti-poverty policies and programs. The poorest of the poor Filipinos are farmers and fisherfolk, with the latter group slightly worse off. Poverty incidence among farmers is 38.3 percent in 2012, for fisherfolk 39.2 percent, according to government statistics. Sadly, we do not have major programs and policies that address the specific needs of our fisherfolk.

Meanwhile, farmers have been the target beneficiaries of several poverty alleviation and many other government programs ever since this country became independent. We have yet to see a similar commitment to alleviate poverty among fisherfolk. Granted, many of the government’s programs for farmers have yet to deliver relief from poverty, but at least there has been an effort. Naturally, farmers deserve our help. Our point here is that our fisherfolk need special attention, too.

Another evidence of our bias for land over water can be observed in our public institutions. There are departments for agriculture and agrarian reform. For water, however, there are smaller institutions like bureaus. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is one. There are also other smaller offices, like Marina or the Maritime Industry Authority and the PPA or Philippine Ports Authority. Recently, some politicians have called for the creation of new government departments. Regretfully, we have yet to hear of an initiative to create a full-fledged government department for our oceans, rivers and lakes.

Even many of our government buildings have literally turned their backs to water. For instance, the Bureau of Immigration office and many other buildings along the Pasig River prefer their entrances to face inland. And why shouldn’t they? Despite all the initiatives to rehabilitate Pasig River, it still stinks as Metro Manila’s toilet.

Our neglected riches

Besides the Pasig, many other rivers across the country need rehabilitation and protection. Cleanups are ineffective unless the source of pollution is plugged first. We all know that one of the solutions is to build sewerage-treatment infrastructure, but there seems to be no urgency to do so. Why?

Sewerage infrastructure systems will also benefit our coastal areas. The Philippines has world-class beaches, which is to be expected for a country that has the sixth-longest coastline in the world. Just ahead of us in that category is Russia, the biggest country in the world in terms of land area. Also, our country’s coastal territory is nearly as large as our land area, around 266,000 square kilometers. Those numbers underscore the fact that the Philippines is a maritime nation. But we hardly behave like maritime people, except with regard to supplying the world’s shipping lines with manpower. Filipino seafarers are some of the best in the world, and yet our domestic shipping industry is underdeveloped. Ironic, isn’t it?

We need to adjust our orientation and pay more attention to our waterfronts and waterways. Imagine, we could be using rivers and other waterways for transport and logistics. Our waterways complement our roads and help ease traffic congestion. So why don’t we? That question deserves deep thinking and honest reflection.

Given our geography, Filipinos should be masters of the ocean, rivers and lakes. But the sad reality is that the Philippines has one of the worst maritime safety records in the world. Many of our rivers, lakes and coastlines are polluted. And the people who live around them are among the poorest of the poor.

The Philippines is blessed with natural resources. But we curse ourselves when we waste them away.