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Law of the stomach

/ 09:13 AM June 14, 2011

The beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names.”

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan worked by that proverb at Senate hearings on “fishkills.” Tons of milkfish turned belly-up in waters crammed with fishpens that breached “carrying capacity.”

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The root cause is not climate change or poverty, asserted Pangilinan. “It is greed. Man-made ang fishkill. Ang pangunahing dahilan talaga ay overstocking.”
Lake Taal can support 6,000 fish cages but is jammed with 12,000, noted Gil Jacinto of University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute. Fishpens sprawl over a third of Laguna de Bay (31,000 hectares). That exceeds the 20,000 has. maximum permissible cap. Over 15,000 small fishermen were beggared, retired UP scientist Flor Lacanilao revealed.

“For greed, all nature is too little.” The Sulu Sea and Tubbataha Reefs are ravaged by “Malthusian overfishing,” reports a Swedish Academy of Science study.

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Moro Gulf fishermen used to land 100,000 tons yearly. That is down to 2,000 tons, mostly trash fish. Panay Gulf and Bohol Sea yield a third of their original record of 15 metric tons. General Santos tuna catch hasn’t recovered since its 2004 slump.

Inexhaustible marine resources is a shattered myth. “For many fisheries, their status maybe summed up as “IUU” or “illegal, unreported, unregulated,” the Swedish Academy report adds. This chaotic situation spawns practices like introduction of alien species to poison.

“Squirting cyanide into reefs to stun fish originated in the Philippines and Taiwan in the 1960s,” UN Environment Programme recalls. By mid-’80s, “more than 80 percent of fish harvested, destined for aquarium trade, were collected using cyanide.”

Misuse of cyanide spread to Asean countries, then leapfrogged to Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and Seychelles. In its wake, cyanide decimated marine populations and wrecked vital reefs.

Zamboanga police, meanwhile, filed charges against Olivia Lim Li for trying to ship rare black and red corals, plus other endangered marine species, from hawksbills, green turtles to sea whips. Poachers “wrecked reefs five times the size of Metro Manila.”

Only 1 percent of the 27,000 hectares of reefs remains in “pristine” condition, the Senate has learned. Such “carpet bombing” did not occur overnight. How come we’re hitting alarm button only now?

Red flags were raised earlier. World Resources Institute issued two major studies that flagged attention to the pillage: “Reefs at Risk” in 1998 and “Reefs at Risk Revisited” this year. UN Enviroment Programme, in 2006, questioned the sustainability of the Philippines topping eight nations in the 300-million-dollar yearly global trade of ornamental fish species.

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Manila supplies 43 of 93 species traded, from seahorses to the sapphire devil, UNEP noted. Manila sold 1.52 million fish, compared with Indonesia’s 943,000-plus. Now, add to that black and red coral.

Other ecosystems have been ransacked. That is shown by corpses bobbing in flashfloods of denuded Quezon, Aurora, Leyte, Surigao and recently from Storm Ondoy.

“The Philippines was the first Asia-Pacific country, in the post World War II era, to extensively liquidate its forest wealth,” noted the Food and Agriculture
Organization. “Quickie” concessions were recklessly parceled out. Log exports crested in the late ’60s. They’ve never recovered.

“Yesterday’s timber prima donna is today’s wood-pauper,” Viewpoint noted. Denudation’s effects cut across the board. More than half of groundwater today is contaminated, Asian Development Bank notes.

About 100,000 tons of critical topsoil is washed out to sea yearly. Discolored waters stain Davao, Lingayen and other gulfs. Have we breached the critical threshold where erosion rates exceed soil formation?

“The Philippines is ranked third (after Indonesia and Brazil which are 20 times larger) for severely endangered plant and animal communities,” Conservation International points out.

Mindoro’s tamaraw is endangered. There are only 200 of the new-to-science gail discovered in Babuyan Islands. Only four of Cebu flowerpecker (dicaeum quadricolor) are left, making it world’s most endangered species.

“How quickly nature falls into revolt/ When gold becomes her object,” Henry IV told Gloucester: Public office morphs, from a position for service, into a tool for what older Filipinos called ley del estomago.

“Law of the stomach,” in the ZTE broadband scandal, tripled kickbacks from the usual 20 percent to 60 percent. With martial law bayonets, Eduardo Cojuangco wrung levies from defenseless coconut farmers into today’s fortune. A Korean shipyard pulled out of an P80-bllion Misamis Oriental project when Tagoloan and Villanueva town officials tried to wring a P400 million sand and gravel contract—for themselves.
The late National Scientist Dioscoro Umali spoke of this crisis of the spirit. In his farewell address to Food and Agriculture Organization member-nations in Jakarta, the “Dean” said:
“Our formulation of policy, it has been said, often confused the problem of rural poverty with social injustices that were it’s cause. It is my hope that this assessment of faulty judgement is correct.
“For there are critics who insist that our flawed strategies were not the result of inept judgment calls. They claim it was, at rock bottom, a simple case of old-fashioned greed. Avarice rationalized betrayal of the weak.
“I pray this assessment is wrong. For if it should prove right, then we have much to answer for those whose lives were blighted by penury.”

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