Spotlight shines on ocean heroes
EVERY day, Norlan Pagal would painstakingly push his wheelchair to the shore of his village in San Remegio town in northern Cebu, bring out his old pair of binoculars, and scan the waters of Tañon Strait.
“If I see something not right, I will report it to the seaborne patrol of the municipality so they can take action,” he said.
Pagal had paid a price for his relentless campaign to protect the waters of Barangay Anapog, which are part of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape, the country’s largest marine sanctuary between the islands of Cebu and Negros.
He was shot by unidentified men who he believes targeted him because of his work. Though he now goes around in a wheelchair, he continues to look after the strait.
On June 8, Pagal was one of the four fishermen from the Visayas who received the Ocean Heroes Awards in recognition of their courage and unwavering effort to protect their coastal communities from illegal and destructive fishing.
World Oceans Day
The other awardees were Oliver Dayupay, president of a fishermen’s association in Ayungon town and Veda L. Raunillo, of Guihulngan town, both in Negros Oriental province; Roberto C. Quigay, of San Carlos City, Negros Occidental province. Dayupay’s wife, Eden, received the award after his death last month.
Oceana Philippines, a nongovernment organization that works for the protection of the country’s marine resources presented the awards, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, in Cebu City on June 8, which coincided with World Oceans Day.
“I never thought I would reap the fruits of what I had done in the past,” Pagal said. “It is rewarding to see that my children and grandchildren have something to be proud of.”
The fisherman dropped out of school after finishing Grade 4, but this did not hinder him from being a staunch advocate of marine protection. He knows fishery laws like the back of his hand because he used to patrol the sea for 13 years as a member of the Seaborne Patrol in San Remegio, a coastal municipality 109 kilometers from Cebu City.
Three years after joining the team in 2002, he became chair of the Anapog Fishermen Association, which guarded the Anapog Marine Protected Area (MPA), one of eight such sanctuaries in the municipality.
Going after illegal fishers in the protected areas and arresting them earned him enemies, some of whom even tried to kill him. In 2010, unidentified men threw a dynamite into his boat, but he was able to jump into the sea before it exploded.
On Nov. 14, 2013, he was mauled after arresting several illegal fishers, one of whom pounded him with a paddle on the forehead. The wound required 14 stitches.
On Oct. 24, 2015, Pagal was shot while on his way home during the barangay fiesta celebration. The bullet hit his spinal cord so he could no longer walk.
“I knew beforehand that some people might try to kill me because of what I had done. I have not regretted pursuing my advocacy. I am even thankful because of what happened to me as more fishermen in our area had volunteered to guard the sea,” he said.
Funds to protect the seas
The Ocean Heroes awardees were given P50,000 each in cash, a plaque and equipment to help them in their advocacy. A portion of the money will be used to fund marine protection projects in their areas.
Pagal plans to raise the capital of the Anapog Fishermen Association’s rice retail store and to pursue a sea cucumber-clamshell-abalone seeding project.
Raunillo, who was credited with the continued implementation of marine protection and mangrove rehabilitation in her community despite being harassed and threatened, wants to buy office equipment and other needs to support coastal management activities in Guihulngan.
Quigay intends to buy fishing gear, fish aggregating devices and used bancas for the San Carlos Fishermen’s Association, and floating buoys for a marine sanctuary off Sipaway Island. He was recognized for leading his fellow fishers in securing Sipaway’s sanctuaries in San Carlos from destructive fishing methods.
Dayupay, who was also a certified scuba diver, regularly participated in biannual reef monitoring projects organized by Ayungon’s agriculture office due to his extensive knowledge of corals. He also organized fishermen in protecting the town’s marine sanctuary from illegal fishers.
On May 25, while attending a seminar in Cebu, Dayupay was found unconscious in his room and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. “He died in the line of service. He used to tell me that he was ready to die in his line of work and he really did,” his wife said.
Tañon Strait hosts one of the largest fishing grounds in the country covering more than 500,000 hectares and is home to more than 70 species of fish, 20 species of crustaceans, and 14 species of dolphins.
Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau, hailed the Ocean Heroes for working every day to protect the Tañon Strait from illegal fishing.
“They act as a light to inspire and change the way of thinking of individuals, groups, and organization toward sustainable resources management,” Lim said.
The finalists and winners of the Ocean Heroes Awards were unsung heroes of the Tañon Strait, said Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president for Oceana Philippines.
“May they continue to inspire us, and serve as an example, on how we can work together for our seas,” she said.
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