Rappler reports inadequate gov’t support in fight against plastic

CHEERS TO Rappler for highlighting how inadequate government support leaves vulnerable communities with no choice but to find their own solutions to urgent, long-standing problems. 

The online news site’s July 30 report was on the situation of fisherfolk in municipalities around Tañon Strait in Cebu province. Tañon Strait is the Philippines’ largest marine protected area. 

Reporter Janssen Calvelo emphasized that plastic pollution multiplies the problems fishing communities face, such as diminishing fish catch, competition with commercial fishers and extreme weather events. 

Calvelo interviewed John Ortega, a 54-year-old former fisherman turned community organizer who decided to stop fishing after witnessing how his fellow fisherfolk’s struggles worsened as plastic pollution increased and their catch decreased. 

Ortega told Rappler that “Some of our fisherfolk are losing hope. If not for selling seaweed, we will run out of livelihood on the island.” Ortega launched coastal cleanup and waste collection campaigns to ease the impact of plastic pollution on fisherfolk livelihoods. These community-led cleanups have become a daily practice for Ortega and fisherfolk. 

But. Ortega and other community members recognize that their efforts are not enough to address the growing problem. Venerando Carbon, another fisherman interviewed by Calvelo, called on the government to do its part: “It’s not the LGU but the fisherfolk who are the ones removing plastics from the shore. This has to change.” 

Calvelo added that in 2021, a study by the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) revealed that out of ten selected study sites around the country, the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape has the highest concentration of microplastics. 

The Rappler piece also cited local and international research on the harmful effects of plastic pollution on the environment and human health and the particular importance this issue has for marginalized groups like fisherfolk, identified as the “first and worst affected by plastics.” 

Calvelo noted environmental groups’ call for a “rights-based approach” and a nationwide policy addressing plastic pollution, which would be more effective than the current system of inconsistent local policies in some municipalities. They have also called for greater citizen participation in holding businesses and government accountable. 

Media should continue to amplify the stories of communities calling for greater government support. Scientific and data-driven reporting combined with firsthand accounts from frontline communities bring potentially overlooked issues to the forefront and provide relevant evidence and guidance for the public and government to take action.