Philippines Tuna

Fishport workers carry tunas for processing in General Santos City. Pic: AP.

Forty days after super typhoon Pablo ravaged the Philippines, leaving 358 tuna fishermen missing in addition to the 8 confirmed dead, I tried to coax Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio into looking at the possibility of honoring all the missing and dead tuna fishermen with a memorial wall or monument where their names will be inscribed.

I got a positive feedback from her via a text message.

“That’s a great suggestion.  Will have CEMCDO see how we can develop this,” she said.

I know it would be premature, may be even insensitive, to have a monument built now and the names of the Pablo victims inscribed when hopes that they are still alive still run deep in the hearts of their families.

But somewhere down the road, everybody will have to agree that we should give paean to our fishermen – both living and the dead.

Even members of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries (SFFAI) are supportive of the idea and are willing to donate an area where this monument could be  honoring the faceless and nameless fisherman who made the supreme sacrifice to make General Santos City the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.

Councilor Ronel Rivera was also enthusiastic but was reluctant to sponsor a resolution that will get the ball rolling. He nevertheless pursued the initiative even as he warned that it may not go beyond sponsorship.

Rivera happens to be one of the two opposition lawmakers in the city council even though its presiding officer, Vice Mayor Shirlyn Bañas-Nograles, is also in opposition.  Rivera, of course, is running for mayor in the May elections this year.

True enough, Councilor Eduardo Leyson IV immediately shoot down the proposal saying it would be illegal to donate a portion of the Plaza Heneral Santos without violating the city charter and the law that created it. Which reminds me, how come the city council and the city government have been mum over the tragedy?

Why aren’t they asking why the missing fishermen were not adequately covered by insurance, SSS, Pag-IBIG and Philhealth?

Why, despite hosting all the National Tuna Congress and knowing all too well that all Philippine tuna fishing vessels are to be equipped with vessel monitoring system (VMS) as required by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, they are not investigating why this happened?

Why are business permits still being granted to companies even if they have been violating national laws as well as international treaties and agreements?  Are they so beholden to these companies that they are speaking, hearing and seeing no evil?

This piece is not an indictment of the fishing industry, without which this city would not have grown to what it is today.  This is a wakeup call for everybody.

We have to get our acts together and ensure that our fishermen get all the protection they deserve.

In the meantime, why not a monument wall for them, indeed?

If the city can give a hundred thousand pesos or so as reward to a deserving tuna fisherman every Tuna Festival, why can’t we give tribute to those who died and went missing in the high seas for us to be where we are today?