15th of May, 1998

MANILA,PHILIPPINES — POOR fisherfolk and peasants get to be among the first to judge the next government of President Joseph Estrada as inutile in solving hunger and poverty. This comes as Estrada pledged to sustain and even expand programs that lay peasant and fisherfolk livelihoods open to attack from global market forces.

The rejection was declared by leaders from all over the Philippines belonging to the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) as they stage the first post-election sectoral protest at Malacañang Palace on 15 March.

KMP chair Rafael Mariano said the march also coincides with similar mobilizations of peoples in Asia and Europe opposing next week's ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

The one thousand marchers and their supporters from churches and government employees say that the WTO will further force poorer countries to open their markets to surplus goods from abroad.

March 15 is the anniversary of the Marcos Fisheries Decree of 1975 (PD 704) but starting next year, February 25 will become the new protest date being the day when Ramos signed Republic Act 8550 or the new Fisheries Code of 1998.

The delegates met in Manila to plan how to prevent the Fisheries Code from being implemented in their villages. "The huge commercial joint ventures can't even wait for the 60-day waiting period to pass and have invaded the municipal waters with their usual trawls and purse seines from day one," Pamalakaya chair Rodolfo Sambajon said.

Sambajon said 1.2 million poor fishers like him will continue to lose their catch to about 3,000 registered commercial crafts, while the Code's "flexible policies to attain food security" has allowed cheap imports of "japayuki galunggong" (scad fish from Japan and Korea) to flood the market and further bankrupt local economies.

Meanwhile, Panaghiusang Gagmay'ng Mananagat sa Sugbo (Pamana-Sugbo) fears the total destruction of more than 3,000 hectares of rich fishing grounds off Mactan island due to an ambitious reclamation project being pushed by the capitol. The group's secretary-general, Victor Lapaz, scoffed at pledges made by likely election winner Joseph Estrada to stop the project.

According to Pamalakaya-Mindanao's Alfredo Apole, the fisherfolk have no choice but to continue mass actions to pressure the incoming government to junk the Fisheries Code and campaign for a protectionist fisheries development program based on basic industrialization. "We also demand from the next administration the abrogation of treaties signed with the World Trade Organization, APEC and BIMP-EAGA, in order to reorient our food production and market to feed the Filipino people and not aristocrats abroad," Apole said.

Pamalakaya-Pilipinas plans to challenge the constitutionality of what it claims to be a midnight bill passed without a quorum. The group charged that solons in need of campaign funds accepted bribes from fishpond owners in exchange for railroading the Fisheries Code.

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index of may 98