PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan — US Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday visited the fishing village of Tagburos here to check on the progress of the $28-million USAID Fish Right Initiative.
Harris, who visited the site under the sweltering heat shortly after noon, touched base with USAID Fish Right project officials and asked about the developments of the project and how it was able to help the community.
The initiative is a five-year program, from 2018 to 2023, aimed at countering illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including in the West Philippine Sea
"What are we learning here [in the fishing community]?" Harris was overheard saying to project officials.
She also said hello to the group of fishermen, each carrying a tub full of big fish, who happened to be passing the area where she was.
Harris then proceeded to meet women fisherfolk who were making danggit (dried fish) by the shore to ask them how many they can make on a daily basis before asking if she could hold the danggit. The women fisherfolk obliged.
Based on the fact sheet provided by the US Embassy in Manila prior to Harris’ arrival, the Fish Right project has been shifting its focus on fishing areas in and near West Philippine Sea such as Tagburos since “fisheries resources are further challenged due to encroachment by large scale, domestic fishing fleets on the nearshore grounds of small scale fishers due to competition and harassment from foreign maritime forces and private fishing vessels.”
The same fact sheet said that the fish catch in the West Philippine Sea accounts for 27% of the country’s fish catch, and that the West Philippine Sea is also one of the largest reef areas that necessitates a “collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to sustainable fisheries management in WPS to enhance program for effective use of science data in policies and management actions.”
The Philippines has 12 Fishing Management Areas, including the Tagburos fishing village which is home to 1,500 families.
“Unsustainable fishing practices perpetuate a cycle of poverty and natural resource depletion. USAID Fish Right’s interventions are designed to advance sustainable and resilient fisheries, anchored on improving the resilience of small-scale fishers,” the fact sheet read.
“As one of USAID Fish Right’s learning innovation hubs in the West Philippine Sea, USAID will support Tagburos through a multifaceted set of interventions that includes IUU assessment and risk reduction planning, ensuring resilience of fish stocks, systematic marine protected area network designing, and improving fish catch through appropriate harvest controls,” it added.
The USAID Fish Right program also puts safety nets in fishing communities such as improving fishers’ financial literacy; establishing market linkages between fishers and government agencies, academic institutions and private sector; setting up community savings associations, and developing micro enterprises to lessen their dependence on marine resources.
Harris was welcomed at the site by the children of Tagburos, who performed a folk dance with young girls wearing sunflower as ribbons.
“Show me your dance,” she told the children ahead of the production number.
She also joined the children in putting the finishing touches on a mural welcoming her to the village.
In a separate speech on board BRP Teresa Magbanua with Philippine Coast Guard personnel, Harris praised the Tagburos fishing community for their commitment to sustainable fishing.
“I heard from local officials in Tagburos about the generation of families that fished these waters. The fisheries of Palawan do not only provide food, but also serve as the lifeblood of the island. I met fishers who go out everyday and sustainably catch macrolin tuna, and met a young woman named Jacqueline who owns a fish drying business, a business that has been so successful she taught other women how to dry rabbit fish so that they too, can participate in a vital industry and benefit from extra income,” Harris said.
“Community leaders are also helping the residents adapt to warming waters and extreme weather. These stories I have heard made clear that these communities have come together to sustainably manage marine resources,” she added.
The Philippines has filed at least 405 diplomatic protests against China over the latter's aggression and incursions in the Philippines exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, including aggression against Filipino fisherfolk, as of September this year.
In July 2016, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s expansive nine-dash line claim of the entire South China Sea.
The same ruling also declared the Spratly Islands, as well as the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank are all within the Philippines' EEZ as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas and outlawed China’s action of preventing Filipino fishermen to access Panatag Shoal.
The Hague court deemed Panatag Shoal as a common fishing ground. —KBK/VBL, GMA Integrated News