By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee
on Agriculture and Food, is extending her congratulations to Filipino
fisherman Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon of Zamboanga Sibugay who was
chosen as one of the recipients of The Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Ballon is recognized for “his inspiring determination in leading his
fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a
sustainable marine environment for this generation and generations to
come, and his shining example of how everyday acts of heroism can
truly be extraordinary and transformative.”
In 1986, Ballon and 30 other small scale fishermen started Kapunungan
sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion. The association decided to
restore mangrove forests in Kabalasan town where the rampant fishpond
conversion and abandonment of fishponds when the business collapsed
had destroyed the mangrove forests.
With government backing, Ballon and his fellow fisherfolks were able
to transform abandoned fish ponds into 500 hectares of healthy
mangrove forests, which also preserve the coastal environment.
“Ka Dodoy serves as an inspiration and role model to fisherfolks and
all Filipinos that genuine concern for other’s welfare and for the
environment combined with a determination to do something is not only
personally rewarding but will be rewarded and recognized as well, “
Ballon’s efforts led to improvement in the fish catch: from only 1.5
kilograms in an eight-hour fishing trip to as much as 7 kilograms in
three to five hours of fishing. This also helped improve the quality
of life of fishermen.
Villar cites, “There are really huge benefits in protecting mangroves
forests. Mangroves are not only the best protection against storm
surges, particularly in coastal communities. They also serve as nesting
grounds for fishes, it is where they lay eggs. So fish catch really
improves when mangroves are protected.”
Villar herself who is the current chairperson of the Senate Committee
on Environment and Natural Resources is also a staunch advocate of
mangroves planting and protection. One of her environmental programs
is at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Wetland Park (formerly LPPCHEA), which
has a 36-hectare mangrove forest with 11 mangrove species.
In a video message, Ballon dedicated his award to his fellow
fisherfolk: “I dedicate this to all fishermen, especially small
fishermen across the Philippines. Because of this, let us keep
improving and strengthening our programs”.
The Board of Trustees of The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF)
announced this year’s choices composed of four individuals and one
organization during a virtual event held on August 31. Ballon was the
lone Filipino among this year’s awardees.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize. It
is given to individuals or organizations in Asia who manifest the
“same selfless service and transformative influence that ruled the
life” of late President Ramon Magsaysay. It is Asia’s premier prize
and highest honor. (ai/mtvn)