Sergeant Armando Pante is no stranger to explosives. The retired Marine Corps Sergeant survived the notorious battle for Camp Abubakar at the height of the Moro Insurgency. In all, Pante spent 21 years in the Philippine Marines, before returning to his native province, Llocos Norte in Luzon Island. “I was ready to live the rest of my days in peace…but fighting is in my blood,” he says. Which is why the formidable Sergeant Pante has turned his attention to a different kind of battle – to protect the seascape off Ilocos Norte from illegal fishers using dynamite and other destructive methods to catch fish…
Some fishermen lose limbs and sometimes even the sight in one or both eyes due to bombs exploding prematurely.
Local people making a stand
Fortunately, things are improving. “Better enforcement has proven to be an effective deterrent for illegal fishers. Enhanced education also creates a sense of stewardship for coastal communities to more stringently safeguard their waters,” notes World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Project Manager John Manul. “Who better to protect the ocean than those who rely on it for food?” Manul oversees a partnership between WWF and Century Tuna to protect vital fishing grounds in Ilocos Norte.
WWF & BFAR together with government representatives led a training session for new rangers in Ilocos Norte between 21 and 23 January. Participants - all from local communities - were brought up to speed on fisheries laws, gear, practices, apprehension procedures, plus dynamite-caught fish inspection techniques. “This training will hopefully curb blast fishing, which still takes place in Badoc, Bacarra, Currimao and other parts of Ilocos Norte,” said Valente.
All over the Philippines, the battle to save the country's reefs is underway, as newly trained Bantay Dagat volunteers like those from IIlocos Norte take to the sea.
“Anyone we catch using dynamite will serve five to ten years in jail,” says new Bantay Dagat
member, Sergeant Pante. The grizzled veteran, plus 19 new fish wardens, will soon patrol the waters of Ilocos Norte. Pante issued a stern warning to illegal fishers. “Watch out – because I’ll be watching you.”