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Why Blast Fishing thrives in Samar

by Judah S, Aliposa.  San Antonio Northern Samar.

SOMETIME in 1994,  Rudy Noynay was fishing near the Flying Dog Resort in San Antonio when he saw bubbles rising from the clear blue sea under his boat.  Noynay saw some shadows underneath and thinking those were big fishes, he took his homemade dynamite, locally known as badil, lit the wick and threw the charge to where the bubbles were. Several seconds later, two limp caucasian bodies floated.  Unknown to Noynay, two Italian tourists from Flying Dog were scuba diving in the area.  The foreigners were rushed to the San Antonio District Hospital but one of them died on arrival.  Noynay was incarcerated for one year. But he had to be released because no complaint was filed against him, reasoned SPO2 Jaime Picardal, the town police chief.  Incredible as it may seem, no one in San Antonio can give the names of the unfortunate Italians and details of the "accident,"  Not even from the police chief.  Picardal's reason: The police blotter had been lost. He did not say if it was only for that particular incident or for the whole year of 1994. But he did remember Noynay; after all, the man was in his jail for a year.  The tale is told often enough in this town--a grim reminder that blast fishing is a way of life here--slaughtering all kinds of sea life, the most coveted of which are the migratory dolphins, killed for their high-priced meat. 
The Inquirer report on the wholesale slaughter of dolphins off San Antonio sent shock waves across an international marine conservationist community which has now threatened to issue a worldwide call to boycott the Philippines as tourist desination unless the killings stop. Norma Morante, tourism regional Director, did not realize the gravity of the slaughtering of dolphins off Samar and its effect on tourism. And she is gravely concerned. Vulnerable The tourism industry, she admitted, is vulnerable and anybody who wishes to destroy it can easily do so with actions like the threat of a boycott. Morante cautioned the United Kingdo-based Cetacean Defense International that they do not have a monopoly of nature conservation and as 1998 is the United Nations' year of the Ocean, the department's thrusts also include nature tourism.  Jim Hancock, a British coastal fisheries consultant who has been working in Samar and Leyte for over a decade, also disagreed with the boycott threat. "What is happening to the bottle-nosed dolphins and turtles is indeed sad, and dolphins can be a strong symbol for nature conservationists. But for foreigners to prescribe a tourist boycott if the killings do not stop is being too simplistic," he said. Hancock said tourists should instead be encouragd to see the reality in the Philippines, especially the poverty in coastal communities. Tourists should be able to witness the vicious cycle of poverty, declining fisheries, dynamite fishing and the loopholes in the fishery law. "Tourists, especially those coming from dolphin loving countries like the United Kingdom, should see not only what is beautiful in the Philippines. They should also see the harsh realities in the poorer provinces like Northern Samar."  Ernesto Hilvano, chief of the regulatory division of Bureau of fisheries and Aquatic Resources in theregion, has taken action. The Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Council, he said, has directied all municipal police chiefs in Samar to check all fish-landing sites for dolphin meat or fish caught with the use of explosives--acts prohibited and punishable under the Fisheries Code of 1998 (Republic Act No.8550). 
A law-enforcement team was also dispached by the bureau to San Antonio to verify earlier reports of dolphin kills. Mayor Rudy Bagioso, who was among those interviewed by the team, had said he had no personal knowledge of the manufacture of homemade dynamite in the island-village of Burabod. But Bagioso's own vice mayor and political ally, Renato Collamar, told a different story. Collarmar, who has been a town official since the 1980's, admitted that San Antonio, specifically Burabod and nearby Barangay Pilar, is known as a manufacturing centre of homemade dynamite. He, however, asserted that blast-fishing incidents in the town's seas had drastically dropped since he and Bagioso assumed office.  Gov. Madeleine Mendoza-Ong was more candid. She admitted receiving a report from the nprovincial police that the problem of blast fishing is even more rampant in the second congressional district of the province. That are covers the eastern and Pacific towns of Northern Samar, including the famous Cape Espiritu Santo. Blast fishing, Ong said. is also practiced in the island and coastal towms of Western Samar, Leyte, Masbate and Bicol. To be effective, "what we need to do is to coordinate and pool our efforts," Ong said. But Ong was not very worried about a tourism boycott because the province, she said has very few tourists arrivals anyway.

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