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Water and Conflicts

Communications and Advocacy Officer of MedNet
Photo by Ma. Luisa Bautista

MedNet’s e-Learning Forum focused on discussion of conflicts related to water. In the Philippines, it was reported that the country is facing a looming water crisis brought about by climate change. Other than that, several sectors had encountered conflicts related to water boundaries and water resources.

The forum featured Atty. Asis Perez, current Senior Legal Advisor at Tanggol Kalikasan, Inc. and former Undersecretary for the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR); Mr. Benedict Balderrama, National Coordinator of the Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA); and Ms. Maria Elena San Jose, MPA, Supervising Environmental Management Specialist/Head of the Technical Support Services Division of the Provincial Environment Management Office, Province of Negros Occidental who shared their experiences from different stakeholders’ lens, i.e. as National Government Agency (NGA) , as Local Government Units (LGU), and non-government organization (NGO).

Reclaiming Ancestral Waters: PHILSSA’s Journey with the Indigenous People of Calauit Island, Palawan

In the 1970s, Calauit Island in Busuanga, Palawan, once an ancestral domain area for the Tagbanwa community, fell victim to development aggression. The military and government forcibly took control of the island, transforming it into a Safari Recreation Area, displacing hundreds of families from their traditional lands. However, after the EDSA Revolution, the families returned to reclaim their ancestral domain, culminating in a successful application to regain their land and waters.

The Partnership of Philippine Support Service Agencies Association, Inc. (PHILSSA) had the opportunity to work with these indigenous people and encountered many challenges, including issues related to water access and quality.

In the case of Calauit Island, the military and government’s intervention led to the forced eviction of hundreds of families, uprooting them from the lands they had lived on for generations. After years of displacement, the families from Calauit Island refused to give up their ancestral rights. They returned to the island and launched a concerted effort to reclaim their land and waters as recognized ancestral territory.

PHILSSA’s National Coordinator, Mr. Benedict Balderrama, emphasized that this kind of story of water-related hardship and conflict inevitably lead to advocacies for justice and community-led initiatives. When communities are directly affected by development aggression and water issues, they become empowered to seek sustainable solutions to address their concerns.

The Birth of KAHIL-ICAMC

The groundwork for the interLGU alliance began in 1996, with various significant events leading to its rebirth. The Province of Negros Occidental (PEMO) and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) played crucial roles in assisting the establishment of KAHIL-ICAMC. A Special Order was issued by the Governor, designating an Executive Director from PEMO, on September 18, 2009. Subsequently, a new Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed on November 25, 2009, solidifying the partnership. On January 8, 2010, Governor Isidro P. Zayco further reinforced the alliance by issuing Executive Order 1002, officially creating KAHIL-ICAMC.

To address conflicts effectively, the alliance developed a Conflict Management System (CMS). This system encompassed Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, Peace and Conflict Assessment, and regular reviews to promote participation, openness, and feedback among alliance members. This strengthened their collaboration and twinning with LIPASECO and Macajalar Bay Alliance.

The alliance engaged in various activities to harmonize water delineation. This included meetings with Local Chief Executives to establish common waters, Ground Relocation Surveys, Forged MW Boundaries Conformity Agreements, and submission of the Final TD (Technical Description) to NAMRIA (National Mapping and Resource Information Authority). The establishment of Inland MW Boundary Markers further enhanced their efforts.

The inter-LGU alliance implemented key management practices, such as designating the Executive Director post to member-LGUs since 2014, with PEMO serving as the Secretariat and Adviser. Other practices involved strengthening the KAHILICAMC Council and Technical Working Group, harmonizing management of common waters, municipal/fishery ordinances, and local conservation area ordinances. They also focused on alliance-based coastal law enforcement, science-based resource conservation, rehabilitation, and consistent budget allocations from member-LGUs and the Provincial Government.

Through their dedication and collaborative efforts, KAHIL-ICAMC achieved significant recognition and gains. Notably, they secured the 2021 Para El Mar - 3rd Place Outstanding Network of the Philippines and the 2021 Galing Pook Award – NOCWAMA. Several member LGUs also received accolades for the Negros Occidental Good Environmental Governance Award.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of their initiatives, the alliance implemented a range of social, economic, and environmental instruments. These included education and advocacy, strengthening of FARMC (Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils)/POs (People’s Organizations)/Alliance, forging partnerships, providing alternative livelihood projects, promoting eco-tourism, imposing environmental fees and taxes, and utilizing assessment tools and incentive programs.

BFAR’s Declaration of a Closed Season for fishing in Zamboanga

In 2011, the Philippines faced significant challenges in its fishing industry due to declining commercial fish stocks, especially in the Zamboanga region. To address this issue, Atty. Asis Perez, former Undersecretary of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), took a bold step by proposing the implementation of a closed fishing season. This move was based on the provisions of the Philippine Fisheries Code (Republic Act 10654), which defined a closed season as a period during which specific fishing activities were prohibited in designated areas to protect fishery species.The first closed season was focused on sardines in the Visayas Sea, but it faced implementation challenges due to the need for a well-founded, researchbased decision. Atty. Perez emphasized that closing fishing areas should rely on sound scientific evidence and involve extensive social preparation.

In 2011, a closed season was officially conducted in Zamboanga, targeting the sardine population. However, different requests between the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Industrial Group of Zamboanga, Inc. (IGZI) firms in the city. The crux of the disagreement was the duration of the closed season, with IGZI advocating for a December-to-March period, while BFAR favored a November-toFebruary timeframe. To resolve the conflict, a consultation was initiated by Mayor Celso Lobregat.

To reach a consensus, Atty. Perez and the concerned stakeholders agreed to activate a technical working committee. This committee, comprising of representatives from BFAR, the fishing industry, and other relevant sectors, aimed to validate previous research and data on the closed fishing season. The decision-making process was anchored on a two-year scientific study conducted by BFAR and empirical data gathered by the agency.

The closed season in the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Basilan straits during the sardine spawning season proved to be a resounding success. It led to an impressive 30% increase in the sardine catch in 2012 nationwide. This achievement was a significant milestone for the fishing industry, demonstrating the positive impact of science-based conservation measures on replenishing fish stocks.

With the Zamboanga model’s proven success, the closed fishing season approach was adopted and implemented in other regions. In 2012, Visayas followed suit, and in subsequent years, Davao Gulf (2013) and Palawan (2014) adopted similar measures.

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