Group urges UN to probe conversion of food baskets in RP

The  fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) had sent a letter of appeal to Mr. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food to investigate what it called an indiscriminate and wanton destruction of major food sources in the country through privatization and conversion of land and water resources all over the archipelago.

In his letter to de Schutter dated October 11, 2010, Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap asked the office of the UN special rapporteur on food to probe the impact of land and water use privatization and conversions to food production and livelihood rights of millions of rural-based food producers in the country.

“In particular Honorable UN Special Rapporteur, we ask your office to dispatch an investigating team to the Philippines to look into allegations that government projects funded by private interests through public-private partnerships had extremely affected the collective rights of small fisherfolk and ordinary citizens and at these corporate undertakings as well, had excessively damaged the marine and inland environment,” Hicap said in his letter to Schutter.

The Pamalakaya leader requested the UN Special Rapporteur on food rights to dispatch an investigating team to the Philippines to look into allegations that government projects funded by private interests through public-private partnerships had extremely affected the collective rights of small fisherfolk and ordinary citizens.

“Honorable special rapporteur, please allow us to inform you that these corporate undertakings have excessively damaged the marine and inland environment,” added Hicap.  Pamalakaya in their letter to de Schutter cited at least 9 cases where food and fish productions, livelihood rights and people’s environment are threatened by public-private partnership projects:

1).The impact of offshore mining in Tanon Strait, a protected seascape separating the island provinces of Cebu and Negros. In 2005 up to 2008, the Philippine government through the Department of Energy allowed the Japanese oil and gas exploration firm JAPEX to explore the protected seascape despite the resistance from small-scale fishermen, coastal residents and environmental groups.  Fish catch of small fishermen were significantly reduced from a high of 10-15 kilos a day to 1-3 kilos a day due to offshore mining activities.

2).The reclamation of more than 7,000 hectares of coastal areas in Cavite, which is part of Manila Bay to pave way for the construction of Road 1 Expressway Extension Project. Another 5,000 hectares of coastal areas adjunct to the expressway project will be reclaimed for the construction and modernization of seaport, eco-tourism projects, gambling and entertainment centers.

3). The P 18.7 B Laguna Lake Dredging Project funded by the Belgian government. The dredging project involved the dredging of the 94,000 hectare lake and the reclamation of not less than 20,000 hectares of coastal shores for various infrastructure projects. The ambitious dredging project which is a support infrastructure project to more large-scale business undertakings in the fragile lake will immediately displace not less than 50,000 fishing families who heavily depend on the lake sources for livelihood and food.

4). The ambitious 13,000 hectare Aurora economic zone project in Aurora province which will displace farming and fishing communities in favor of big projects funded by foreign and national capitalists.

5).The 54,000 hectare Cagayan Export Processing Zone project in Cagayan province. The project involves development of a major Freeport zone, magnetite mining and the creation of world class international and seaport in Northern Philippines.

6).The offshore magnetite mining in Camarines Sur, which will cover five coastal municipalities of the province. The offshore mining of magnetite materials will affect the livelihood of more than 20,000 fishing families in the province.

7. The widespread conversion of coastal municipalities of Nasugbu, Lian, Calatagan, Calaca, Lemery and Tuy into eco-tourism areas, all in first district, province of Batangas in Southern Tagalog region.  More than 20,000 hectares of fishing and farming areas are covered by this district wide eco-tourism project.

8. The eco-tourism project in Taal Lake, Batangas which seek to develop the lake into a major tourist destination in Southern Tagalog region under the Metro Taal Development Project. More than 30,000 residents, mostly lake fishermen will be affected by this public-private partnership project on eco-tourism.

9. The still unresolved Guimaras oil spill which until now is causing large economic, social and moral nightmare among the fisherfolk in the island and nearby island provinces of Negros and Panay Islands. More than 100,000 fishing families are still having a hard time to recover due to toxic sludge.
The Pamalakaya also official also told de Schutter of their disgust and disappointment with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) where the nine cases were previously brought to the attention of these UN led bodies.

Hicap said his colleague—Pamalakaya information officer Gerry Albert Corpuz had sought attention and audience with of Mr. Rolf Willmann, Senior Policy Officer of FAO on food, agriculture and fishery regarding the privatization and conversion cases which are inimical to food production and food rights and the proposed investigation as initiated by fisherfolk group Pamalakaya.

He said the first was during the Global Conference on Small Scale Fisheries on October 2008 held in Bangkok, Thailand and the last one was on October 2010 during the UN FAO and COFI regional workshop meeting also in Bangkok, Thailand.

“But Mr. Willmann turned down our proposal for FAO probe, saying that the Philippine state may invoke national sovereignty to stop any UN led probe. However, the FAO senior policy officer told us to refer our cases directly to the UN Human Rights Council particularly to office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. So this is what we are exploring now,” said Hicap.

Pamalakaya is still waiting for the official response from the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food regarding their letter of appeal sent last October 11, 2011.

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