Text and photos by Alanah Torralba
Pablo Rosales, a fisherman from Cavite, still remembers how the Manila Bay used to bring them a bountiful catch everyday.
“In the 1980s, we could still catch a lot of big fish like talikitok (trevally) in Manila Bay. We didn’t even have to go very far,” he said during his testimony at the Commission of Human Rights’ (CHR) National Inquiry on Climate Change last month.
These days, however, Rosales said that only small fish and shellfish can be caught in the now putrid waters of the bay. Gone are the talakitok (trevally) that used to fetch P300 per kilo at the market.
“Fish kill in the area is becoming frequent. In Navotas, other fishermen said they experienced ‘laginlin’ at least three times this year,” he said during an interview.
“Laginlin” is the local term used by fisher folk in Navotas to describe when a downpour occurs after a long dry season, thus changing the temperature and salinity of the water. As a result of this sudden change, many sea creatures die, he added.
‘Climate change has a multiplier effect’
In his testimony before the commission, Dr. Mudjekeewis Santos, a scientist at the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said that Philippine fisheries are highly vulnerable to climate change, as more than 70% of the country’s population live in coastal areas.
Owing to the country’s archipelagic formation and an increase in the frequency and intensity of El Niño events in recent years, Santos said that Filipino fisher folk are bearing the brunt of the effects of slow onset events such as sea level rise caused by climate change.
In 2010, for example, he said that when there were fewer storms but more intense super typhoons, cases of red tide increased.
While Santos is careful to attribute ‘laginlin’ and incidences of red tide directly to climate change, he said that the increased frequency and intensity of El Niño — a known consequence of climate change — could be blamed for these phenomena and their subsequent effects on fish catch.
“Climate change has a multiplier effect. The fisheries sector is already beset by a lot of problems like overfishing and species invasion. Then come the effects of climate change. Para kang may sakit tapos malalaman mong may cancer ka rin pala. [It’s like you’re already sick then you find out you also have cancer.],” Santos said during his testimony.
National Inquiry on Climate Change
The series of hearings, hosted by the human rights agency, seeks to find out if multinational and transnational fossil fuel corporations — 47 industrial companies involved in the use and production of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases — should be held liable for human rights harms induced by the effects of climate change.
The hearings were triggered by a petition that was launched in 2015 by a group of Typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) survivors, fisher folk from Alabat, Quezon, communities living near coal-fired power plants in Bataan, and environmental organization Greenpeace. Respondents include Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Total and Conoco Philipps, and others.
“It is the fossil fuel companies who hold the lion’s share of responsibility for climate change and the harm it creates. They can and must be held accountable,” Amalie Obusan, country director of Greenpeace Philippines said in a statement.
In response, the Philippine office of Exxon Mobil, moved to dismiss the petition, citing a lack of jurisdiction from the CHR and a failure to show cause. The Shell Company, which is part of the Royal Dutch Shell PLC, made similar assertions — emphasizing that the corporation, which is headquartered in the Netherlands and incorporated under the laws of England and Wales — is not legally subjected to the Philippine inquiry.
However, Zelda Soriano, legal counsel for the petitioners, views the ‘carbon majors’ responsibility differently.
“Climate change does not have boundaries. It’s a problem that has effects all over the world. By virtue of its effects [which were caused by these companies that have headquarters abroad], we are saying that our human rights [in the Philippines] are affected,” she said.
While Filipino scientists are careful to make the connection between climate change and the heightened vulnerability of the fisheries sector due to a lack of data, groundbreaking studies abroad by leading climate scientists and researchers have linked the activities of these corporations to global warming.
A study published last year in the leading journal Climatic Change said that 90 of the world’s largest carbon producing corporations are responsible for 57% of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and up to 50% of global warming since 1880.
The study has formed part of the basis of a growing global movement to file lawsuits against the biggest polluters in countries such as The Netherlands, US, Peru, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
“The courts are our last, best hope at this moment of irreversible harm to our planet and life on it,” said Julia Olson, an attorney for Our Children’s Trust, a legal challenge center in the US, in a story published in Bloomberg.com.
‘They’ve enriched themselves enough’
For Rosales, the inquiry is a much-needed intervention from the government. He said that it is nearly impossible to make a living as a fisherman today.
“We are fishermen. This is our life but our children no longer want to follow in our footsteps because there are hardly any more fish in the sea,” he said.
He said that, these days, when water is too warm and sea levels are rising, fish kill and incidences of red tide are endangering their livelihood. He worries that he may no longer be able to fish in the Manila Bay soon.
“Climate change was caused by these countries and companies that became wealthy because they destroyed our environment, our seas. They have long benefitted from polluting our natural resources so they should be the ones to start lowering carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They should fund the transition to renewable energy. They’ve enriched themselves enough. They should help the recovery of the planet,” he said.
photo credit: Alanah Torralba