From farming to fishing: Central Luzon groups push for reform

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EARLY MORNING TOILET | Fishermen in the town of Masinloc, Zambales province, prepare their boats early in the morning, hoping to catch enough fish and other seafood. The communities of Zambales and Bataan who depend on the wealth of the Western Philippine Sea will be among those to benefit if the candidates keep their promise to protect the country’s territorial waters. (Photo by JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT/Inquirer Central Luzon)

(Second in a series)

Located between Metro Manila and North Luzon, Central Luzon is blessed with lush green farmlands and natural harbors. It is made up of seven provinces, 12 cities and 118 municipalities.

From the tip of Batan peninsula to the west, and the undulations Caraballo Mountains to the east it is the longest contiguous area of ​​lowland and is known as the “Central Plains” of Luzon. The region produces a third of the country’s total rice production.

Occupying the largest land area in central Luzon and dubbed the country’s “rice bowl”, Nueva Ecija Province is home to 196,390 hectares of agricultural land dedicated to crops like rice, onion and garlic.

But just like farmers in northern Luzon, those in Nueva Ecija hope the next administration will push to end the smuggling and import of agricultural products as they call for more government support to cut costs of production.

“What awaits us, farmers, if they are elected? asked Mario de la Cruz, a leading farmer and president of a dairy cooperative in the town of Bongabon.

Dela Cruz said soaring prices for agricultural inputs, particularly fertilizers, rose from 900 pesos to 2,500 pesos in just a few years, while prices for palay (unhusked rice) fell to an average of 14 pesos per kilo during the last harvest season.

Territorial rights

Bishop Sofronio Bancud of the Diocese of Cabanatuan also expressed his dismay at the relentless smuggling of agricultural products, which he says is the work of unscrupulous people.

In Catholic radio station Radio Veritas, the Prelate was recently quoted as saying, “Once and for all, let us hold accountable those involved in smuggling, as well as the many other crimes that are perpetuated by those in power.”

He particularly called on party list groups, supposed to represent farmers, fishermen and other marginalized sectors, to hear and act according to the needs of their constituents.

In Zambales province, where the majority of its 515,724 registered voters rely heavily on fishing, agriculture and tourism, residents said candidates must present platforms that would protect biodiversity and safeguard national sovereignty.

Bobby Roldan, a fisherman from the town of Masinloc and vice-president of the Pamalakaya fishing group in Luzon, said he would support local candidates who pledge to assert their territorial and sovereign rights over disputed areas of the sea. of the Western Philippines.

Roldan said candidates from Central Luzon should “present categorical platforms in support of Filipino fishermen who are affected by Chinese aggression in the Western Philippine Sea.”

“Now is the most opportune time for our sector to challenge the candidates to defend our collective aspiration to regain control of our territorial seas,” he said.

Zambales fishermen have long sailed to Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, as it serves as their traditional fishing ground. The shoal is located inside the country’s 370 kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone.

Some fishermen in this province have stopped fishing on the shoal since they were harassed by the Chinese coast guard and due to the depletion of marine resources there.

China, which has vast claims across almost the entire Western Philippine Sea, took control of the shoal in 2012, prompting the country to seek UN arbitration. In 2016, the UN arbitral tribunal invalidated China’s sweeping claims, but China continues to ignore the ruling.

Several Bataan groups have reminded candidates to stop the Bataan nuclear power plant revival project

NUKE POWER Several groups in Bataan have reminded the candidates to stop the Bataan nuclear power plant revival project. —REM ZAMORA

nuclear plant

In Bataan, a peninsula with 566,479 registered voters, several groups are still waging a campaign against nuclear power as an energy source despite the provincial government’s announcement that it would oppose the reopening of the Bataan nuclear power plant. (BNPP).

Edlyn Rosales, 41, a mother of two and leader of the Pangisda Bataan fishing group, said rehabilitation of the BNPP would not contribute to true industrialization.

“We must fight against nuclear energy not only in Bataan but also in other parts of the country. In this kind of project, only the capitalist will gain financially at the expense of the environment,” Rosales said.

Francisco Honra, general secretary of the nuclear-free Bataan movement, said residents should realize the danger of the BNPP’s operation.

And although Bataan is a picture of progress and prosperity, there is still much to be desired in terms of environmental protection following the reported denudation of the forest and the illegal felling of trees.

The Bishop of Balanga, Ruperto Santos, said candidates must also focus their platforms on illegal drugs, online gambling and illegal logging.

“Bataan is blessed with the land, [sea] and rivers. With these we have rice, seafood and root crops. So we have to be thankful to God,” Santos said.

Protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples (IPs), like this Aeta family in Porac, Pampanga

IP RIGHTS Protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples (IPs), like this Aeta family in Porac, Pampanga, in this photo from 2018, is one of the election issues in central Luzon. —PHOTO APPLICANT

Pandemic recovery

In Pampanga, candidates for local elective office must put forward programs on how the province and its 2.437 million people (as of the 2020 census) might recover from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Jesus Nicdao, president of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PamCham), said the province’s recovery will depend on rehabilitating the hardest hit sector – micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, especially micro-enterprises. which were forced to close during the pandemic.

In a statement, Nicdao said PamCham had agreed to partner with the provincial government on “assistance programs that will restore, reintegrate and rehabilitate microenterprises to the new normal way of doing business.”

Rene Romero, private sector representative on the Regional Development Council, said winning candidates should monitor infrastructure projects launched under the “Build, Build, Build” program and regular Department of Public Works and Buildings programs. highways.

Local authorities should help members of indigenous Aeta clans to lobby the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples to get their Certificates of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and have representation in legislative councils, according to Ric Guiao, a tribal chief of the town of Porac.

Gelacio Angeles, a farmer from the town of Bacolor, said candidates should address issues with the operation of e-sabong, the delay in the payment of subsidies to farmers and fishermen following the rise in fuel prices and the smuggling of agricultural products.

Jobs, infrastructure projects

In Bulacan, businessmen expect candidates to maintain infrastructure progress in the province, which will host the 735 billion peso “airport city” that is expected to generate jobs for residents.

Victor Mendoza, director of the Bulacan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said local officials need to prepare residents by developing skills and competencies for the employment opportunities that would become available as a result of these projects.

“People’s abilities to run different tourism businesses and facilities need to be improved to match these macro developments. Foreign tourists should come to the province because of the international project,” Mendoza said.

But he said environmental protection measures must also be put in place to ensure sustainability as local tourism in Bulacan is booming.

In Aurora Province, access to medical facilities remains one of the main concerns for residents. When Aurora experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases in September 2021, all hospital beds and quarantine and isolation facilities in the province were full and could no longer accommodate any more patients who tested positive for the virus. viral disease.

The province had only 311 active cases of COVID-19 then, which was significantly less than the active cases in other central Luzon provinces.

There are only four hospitals in Aurora, all government-owned, located in the capital Baler and the towns of Casiguran, Maria Aurora and Dingalan. The most accessible private hospital is located in the town of San Jose in Nueva Ecija.

The Clark Freeport in Pampanga Province is one of central Luzon's main job generators

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES The Clark Freeport in the province of Pampanga is one of the main generators of employment in central Luzon. In this year’s elections, job opportunities and fair wages will be among the main issues candidates will have to address. —NIÑO JESUS ​​ORBETA

Intellectual property rights

The ancestral domain rights of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) of Tarlac Province remain one of the unresolved concerns among the thousands of Aeta.

In 2018, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority began developing the 9,450ha New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac, which straddles Aeta’s ancestral domain.

Since construction of buildings and facilities began, including the sports complex used for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Aeta families who had lived in the area all their lives have been displaced.

While the Aeta’s right to live undisturbed in the hills and mountains covered by their CADT is protected by Republic Act No. 8371 (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997), the development of New Clark City complies with Republic Act No. 7227, or the Base Conversion and Development Act of 1992.

—REPORTS BY ARMAND GALANG, JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT, GREG REFRACCION, TONETTE OREJAS, CARMELA REYES-ESTROPE AND JUN MALIG

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