SENATOR Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan congratulates Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon as the sole Filipino recipient of the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Award for his heroic efforts in restoring mangrove forests in Kabalasan, Zamboanga Sibugay.
The Ramon Magsaysay award, named after the late former president Ramon Magsaysay, is considered a premier prize and highest honor given to individuals and groups who have impacted the Asian region and the world. It is considered as Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
“Congratulations Ka Dodoy. Ang award na ito ay bunga ng mga sakripisyo mo sa pag-oorganisa para maalagaan ang kalikasan (This award is the fruit of your sacrifices in organizing to care for the environment),” Pangilinan said.
“Magkakaroon din ng international at national attention sa kalagayan ng ating mga mangingisdang nagpapakain sa atin at sa ating mga karagatan. Salamat po! Inspirasyon kita sa aking mga adbokasiya (International and national attention will also be focused on the realities of our fishermen who feed us and on our seas. Thank you! You inspire me in my advocacies),” he added.
Ka Dodoy is a fisherman who also became a community environmentalist following the devastating drop in fish catch in his village sometime after the 1970s, lowering their income and forcing some to desperate ways of catching fish using dynamite and cyanide.
In a video interview, he shares how the organization he helped start in 1986, Kapunungan sa Gagmay ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion, tried to solve the dwindling fish supply by planting mangroves.
By 1994, they were able to plant 50 hectares of mangroves. The fish returned. But because the organization is volunteer based and the rehabilitation has some costs, eventually people stopped contributing and the number of members dwindled down from 36 to five, who persisted.
In time, government agencies started noticing their efforts and they started to get funding. Eventually, the number of members increased to 300. With more hands on deck, they were able to plan well, including the culture of lapu-lapu and crabs, creating more livelihood and income for their community.
By 2015, they were able to grow a total of 500 hectares of mangrove forests benefiting the lives of the fishermen and the community. Fish catch increased from 1.5 kilos per eight-hour fishing trip to over seven kilos of 3-to-5 hours of fishing.
As chairman, Ka Dodoy earned multinational recognition, allowing them to expand their campaign to safeguarding the mangroves and stopping illegal fishing practices.
Mangroves play a vital role in our marine eco-system and in the ecological system of the country. They act as natural buffers to prevent storm surge, shielding coastal communities from the strong wind and waves. They also serve as breeding and nursing grounds for marine life as 75% of commercial fish species spend part of their lifecycle in these coastal wetlands. Mangrove leaves also serve as food source for marine life and they also serve as natural filters sequestering almost 22.8 million tons of carbon each year.
“My hair is white now, our original members are getting old. Our hope is our children to continue what we have started,” Ka Dodoy said.
Pangilinan shares Ka Dodoy’s aspirations for the fishing community and the future.
“Ito ang gusto natin: Naaalagaan ang kalikasan. Masagana ang huli ng ating mga mangingisda. Masagana rin sa yamang-dagat ang ating hapag-kainan,” he said.
“Mabuhay ka, Ka Dodoy! Nawa’y dumami pa ang sumunod sa ating adhikain at marami pa ang sumama sa inyong organisasyon (Long live, Ka Dodoy. May more follow our dreams and more join your organization),” he added.
For the 18th Congress, Pangilinan filed Senate Bill 639 or the National Mangrove Forest Protection and Preservation Act. It seeks to preserve, reforest, and sustainably develop mangrove forests in the Philippines.