Burias Pass coastal communities to benefit from PHL-Italy funded ecological program

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 23 (PNA) –- Fisherfolk communities along the coastlines of Burias Pass are the target beneficiaries of a coastal resource management undertaking funded under the Philippines-Italy Debt for Development Swap Program, according to officials involved in its implementation.

Now on its initial stage of operation, the program is being carried out through a partnership among the office of Albay 3rd district Rep. Fernando Gonzalez, local governments covering beneficiary barangays, Bicol Consortium for Development Initiative (BCDI) and Social Action Center of the diocese of the city.

Gonzalez’s representation includes the entire Albay west coast section composed of Ligao City and the municipalities of Oas, Pioduran and Libon where 12 barangays are covered by the program.

Other areas chosen as project sites are 12 more barangays along the coastlines of Claveria and San Pascual at Burias Island of Masbate and Donsol and Pilar of Sorsogon province.

BCDI, on the other hand, is a multi-agency collaboration that addresses the need to establish a strong health research and development coordination system involving various institutions in Bicol with interest in health research towards the improvement of the health conditions of Bicolanos.

SAC-Legazpi is a church-based organization for social services aimed at improving the conditions of the poor by way of addressing their social, cultural, economic and political needs based on thrust to serve the deprived and the oppressed, especially women and children, in the province of Albay.

Called the “Partnership for the Sustainable Management of Municipal Waters in Burias Pass, Bicol Region for the Benefit of the Disadvantaged Sector”, the program was recently launched in Barangay Catburawan, Ligao City through a signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) among the involved parties.

Bicol University (BU) president and BCDI chair Arnulfo Macariñas on Wednesday said the program is designed to improve the living conditions of coastal communities along Burias Pass and increase the quality of its marine resources.

According to Macariñas, this new program looks like an extension of the World Bank-funded Community-Based Resource Management Project (CBRMP) introduced in Bicol way back in 1998 and implemented for five years in an effort to address the region’s high levels of environmental degradation and poverty.

As in CBRMP, Macariñas said, the Burias Pass program aims to enhance the capacity of local government units (LGUs) and communities to plan, implement and sustain high-priority marine resource management projects.

Burias Pass is an inland sea that separates Burias Island from the mainland of Bicol.

It covers an area of 414,244 hectares serving as fishing ground for a total population of 93,943 coastal villagers, 41.4 percent of them languishing in poverty as reported last year by the National Statistics Coordination Board of the Philippine Statistics Authority.

The area, along with its adjoining water of Ticao Pass, is being proposed, through a bill recently filed in Congress by Gonzalez, as a protected seascape to become a site of harmonious interaction of man and ocean while providing opportunities for public enjoyment through the recreation and tourism within the normal lifestyle and economic activities it offers.

According to the Greenpeace Southeast Asia, an independent global campaigning organization that among other environmental activism, challenges wasteful and destructive fishing activities and creating a global network of marine reserves, both water bodies are being overfished and devoid of more sustainable coastal resource management initiatives.

Gonzalez has expressed high optimism that his Burias-Ticao Pass Protected Seascape bill will soon be enacted by the Lower House and Senate, knowing that the area it covers is a promising tourism hot spot in line with the national government’s drive to create multi-faceted tourist destinations.

Part of the new marine resources management program, Macariñas said, is the preservation of Burias Pass’ marine resources through an intensified enforcement of anti-illegal fishing policies under a Community-Based Monitoring and Enforcement System (CBMES), which is now in place along coastal barangays of Ligao City and neighboring areas.

The Ligao CBMES is being handled by a group of lawmen organized and being maintained as “sea wardens” by the city government and supported by the office of Gonzalez.

It is composed of Philippine Army soldiers, militiamen, police operatives, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) enforcers and deputized local government personnel.

Macariñas said that through the CBMES, whose area of jurisdiction will cover the entire Burias Pass, it is expected that incidence of abusive commercial fishing and illegal activities in the area would be significantly abated, if not totally eradicated, through the program whose implementation period is five years starting this year.

It also targets to rehabilitate 100 hectares each of mangrove sites and near shore forests so that by the end of its second year, at least over half of these are already rehabilitated, he said.

The community life improvement component of the program, Macariñas said, involves the provisions of stable potable water supply and sustainable livelihood opportunities for its beneficiaries.

Within this year, he said, the program would directly benefit a total of 3,740 marginal fishermen while over 10,000 villagers representing nearly 4,000 households would be its indirect beneficiaries.

“All we need here is a strong partnership among stakeholders to intensify the coastal resource management efforts and achieve sustainable development for the improvement of the economic condition of our fisherfolk communities,” he added. (PNA)