Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon, Chairperson of the Kapunungan sa mga Gagmay ng Mangingisda sa Concepcion (KGMC), a fisherfolk organization in Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Chairperson of the Coalition of Municipal Fisherfolk Associations of Zamboanga Sibugay (COMFAZS), a federation of 34 fisherfolk association in Sibugay, and partner of Forest Foundation Philippines, was named as one of the recipients of the 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Award.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation recognized Ka Dodoy for his “inspiring determination in leading his fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment for this generation and generations to come, and his shining example of how everyday acts of heroism can truly be extraordinary and transformative.”
In 1986, Ka Dodoy and other fisherfolk organized KGMC to address overfishing and mangrove destruction in Sibuguey Bay, one of the two bays in Zamboanga Sibugay. The bay is under the jurisdiction of the following municipalities, namely Tungawan, R.T. Lim, Ipil, Naga, Kabasalan, Siay, Payao, Talusan, Alicia, and Olutanga. It supports one of the Philippines’ richest fish populations and is estimated to supply fish for the 330,000 Sibugaynons inhabiting the area. Realizing that the only way to ensure the economic wellbeing of the member fisherfolk is to protect and conserve the mangrove forests in the area, Ka Dodoy led the mangrove protection and conservation initiatives in Kabasalan.
In 2007, Forest Foundation Philippines partnered with the Xavier Agricultural Extension Services (now Xavier Agricultural Extension Services Foundation) to support KGMC and other Peoples’ Organizations (POs) for mangrove rehabilitation activities in Sibuguey Bay. It has resulted in the reforestation of about 71 hectares of denuded mangroves and abandoned fishponds. A total of 374 fisherfolk were also trained in coastal resource management, nursery establishment, and sustainable aquaculture enterprise development.
This project provided the impetus for KGMC to continue the rehabilitation efforts in Kabasalan, while the Xavier Agricultural Extension Services Foundation supported other fisherfolk in Ipil. From 2008 to 2015, Forest Foundation Philippines awarded grants to KGMC to continue its mangrove reforestation efforts, supporting about 550 fisherfolk in the improved management of at least 600 hectares of mangroves in the municipalities of Kabasalan, Naga, Siay, and Alicia. A significant key to the successful mangrove reforestation was the innovation on the propagation of Pagatpat (Sonneratia alba) seeds done by Ka Dodoy, with technical guidance from the Forest Foundation. This seed propagation paved the way for massive production of quality seedlings that are appropriate to the planting sites.
In 2012 and 2013, Forest Foundation Philippines, in partnership with Condura, organized the Condura Skyway Marathon: Run for the Mangroves, which enabled runners to donate mangrove seedlings to sustain the reforestation efforts in Sibuguey Bay.
In 2013, KGMC and 33 other fisherfolk organizations formed a federation named COMFAZS, that is duly-registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ka Dodoy serves as Chairperson of COMFAZS. It enabled the scaling-up of efforts on mangrove management, forest protection, capacity-building, livelihood development and advocacy on coastal resources management, which was also supported by the Forest Foundation.
An inspiring story of hope, KGMC’s conservation journey has also been featured in the Office of the Vice President’s Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festivals, a nationwide, all-digital film competition for short documentaries featuring the extraordinary stories of ordinary Filipinos. These projects prove that forest-dependent communities do not have to choose between conserving the forests or earning a decent living.
Photo Credit: Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation