Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Back in Lian, Batangas!

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A large part of the Philippines’ labor force are in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. As an archipelagic country mainly composed of water, it comes to no surprise that many of our countrymen rely on the riches of the sea for their livelihood. One such community is Sitio Kay Reyna, Brgy. Lumaniag in Lian, Batangas. My batchmates and I from the De La Salle University (DLSU) College of Law are fortunate enough to visit, and interact with the locals as part of the experimental learning component of our Natural Resources and Environmental Law course. 

Our one-day schedule consists of two parts: a lecture in the university’s Bro. Alfred Shields FSC Marine Biological Station, and a community visit to the fisherfolk community in Sitio Kay Reyna. The fisherfolk in the said community directly work with the university’s Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) to conserve and sustainably utilize the natural resources in the area.1

The first part of the trip is a presentation in the marine station on the DLSU-SHORE Research Projects on Marine Life Protection. It was conducted by one of the university’s resident scientists, Dr. Wilfredo Roehl Licuanan, who also helped supervise our activities for the rest of the day. I thought this part of the trip is interesting because it was not my first time in the venue. A few years ago I stayed in the same marine station for a weekend for my marine geography class. Back to the lecture; I find it to be well-prepared and well-researched because it presents not only the scientific side of caring for our marine resources, but also its impacts and implications to policy-making and economic-related decisions. It reminds me that the law and the environment are not worlds apart. As a matter of fact they are closely intertwined by a lot of factors. 

This particular part of the trip is important for me because it reminds me that doing law school was not something unrelated to the field of study where I come from. It also points out importance of having a strong background in the sciences in order to create and implement environmental laws and projects effectively. Dr. Licuanan is also right in saying there is a need for more lawyers with science backgrounds to ensure projects are not only environmentally and politically sound on paper, but actually work on the ground. 

The second part of the trip is an afternoon stay in Sitio Kay Reyna, Brgy. Lumaniag, a marine sanctuary in the same municipality. The area is a declared marine sanctuary by the local government with the assistance of COSCA.2 Visiting the area was the highlight of the trip as we get to experience for ourselves the underwater wonders of Talim Bay, and interact with the local fisherfolk who make the projects possible and working. 

During this part of the day trip as we get to explore the sea and interact with the locals. Another reminder this incites is that one cannot truly care for the environment unless he actually sees, feels and experiences what he is supposed to protect. There is a lot of talk about environmental awareness and protection these days, but it is those who know what they are talking about and what they are protecting who turn out to be the most effective advocates. It also brings about an observation that it is indeed easier to talk about environmental protection and moving towards a greener future, but it is more difficult to put such an advocacy into action. It is not just a challenge for my generation and I, but also to the fisherfolk of Lian who are the forefront of defense and action in their community. 

The local fishermen are trained local tourist guides, and are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to conduct tours and perform safety procedures to their visitors. They assisted our group as we head on to explore the marine wonders of Talim Bay. Aside from water activities, the community also keeps a mangrove plantation to further diversity their income while protecting their coastlines at the same time. But more importantly, the locals are the true-to-life testimonies of community-vases resource management planning and implementation. 

In our conversations with them, they share that there have been local regulations and legislations which aim to protect its natural resources, but towards the end of the discussions, I begin to piece the puzzle pieces together that the success of the conservation and environmental development efforts in the area are only possible because there is genuine community involvement in the project. This brings us to the community-based type of resource management, an approach that also advocates social justice together with environmental protection. 3

Community-based natural resource management is a model in resource management where in the participation of the community itself is an integral part of the system as opposed to a centralized or top-down approach.4 It is an approach in managing natural resources which has the potential to provide solutions within the community itself, where majority of people live and depend on natural resources. 5

Community-based resource management framework seems to be the best fit given the gaps in the implementation of the local environment laws, and the dissatisfaction of the fisherfolk in how the local government unit handles its concerns. Not only are they able to seek partnerships on their own, and devise ways to diversity their income, but they were able to create a genuinely local and on-the-ground type of resource management that especially suited their community. There is still a long way to go in developing the area as tourist destination to stabilize the community’s income, but they are definitely in the right direction when it comes to balancing environmental protection with their economic interests. The changes may seem to be slow now, but such a model is more long-lasting and sustainable. 

The community experiences a similar challenge to other biodiverse, but high risk areas - the gap between what the black letter law says and what really happens on the ground. Even during our trip to the sea, the locals themselves had to ward off some illegal fishermen who were trying to catch fish in the coral areas. The scene we witnessed is an example of how a centralized or top-down type of approach in resource management does not always work. Part of the reasons are that government agencies are not omnipresent, poor implementation of well-crafted environmental laws, corruption or bribery on the ground, and lack of knowledge of the existing laws and ordinances of some of the perpetrators themselves. It illustrates that there is more than one way in tackling resource management approaches. And in the village we visited, the community-based approach has proven itself to be the approach that works. 

Because the said resource management framework requires the locals themselves to make decisions, mobilize themselves, and involve themselves in the cause itself, it creates a sense of ownership to the work. It is because of this ownership that they arrive at better decisions, create and formulate new projects, and engage in partnerships that share their vision. Overall this brings about better resource management through the substantial participation of the community. 6

We left the village early in the afternoon to come back to Manila on schedule. The experiential learning activity left an impression on me because it was a well-timed engagement. Prior to entering law school I went to many places conducting field research, did environmental advocacy work for sometime with World Wide Fund for Nature and VSO, engaging with local communities and the youth, and feeling like I am doing something worthwhile. But somehow in all the stress that comes with finishing a Juris Doctor degree, aiming to pass the bar, being surrounded by a swarm of books about law and reading hundreds of cases for various fields of the law, I forgot that law school and aiming to pass the bar is a journey that is just as worthwhile as well. As I mentioned prior, the law and the sciences are not far off from each other. And in a world that is becoming more complex everyday, there is a need for more people who can handle not only one field of study, but can take an inter-disciplinary approach in solving local, national and international environmental problems. 

I often find myself frustrated because I do not get to travel and meet new people from different walks of life anymore, but this trip not only reminds me of my goals, but also the kind of work that I wish to do. Instead of being frustrated and wanting to rush law school, I should use my past experiences to inspire myself to do better in the present and continue to improve, and not waste the opportunity I am given. Overall, the trip was one worth taking despite everyone’s busy schedules in law school. And I am looking forward to returning to the area sometime in the future.

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1, “Talim Bay Coastal Resource Management Project.” Retrieved December 18, 2015, from De La Salle University Official Website, Last visited December 18, 2015  
2 Ibid.  
3 Worldwide Fund For Nature, “Wildlife Management Series: Community Based Natural Resource Management Manual.” Retrieved December 18, 2015 from, World Wide Fund for Nature - Norway Official Website
4 James Gruber, “Key Principles of Community-Based Natural Resource Management: A synthesis and interpretation of identified effective approaches for managing the commons.” Retrieved December 18, 2015 from, University of Gloucestershire Official Website Available at  
5 Supra at note 3. 
6 Ibid.