LIVELIHOOD PACKAGE. Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol turns over fishing boats to each of the 22 Filipino fishermen affected by the Recto Bank incident at the town plaza of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro on Wednesday (June 19, 2019). The fishermen each received a sack of rice and a soft loan amounting to PHP25,000 payable in three years with no interest. (PNA photo by Oliver Marquez)

SAN JOSE, Occidental Mindoro -- The departments of agriculture and social welfare, and the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security (CORDS) have extended assistance to the 22 fishermen who were abandoned after their boat was reportedly hit by a Chinese vessel off Recto Bank.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said Wednesday that he has already directed the Agricultural Credit Policy Council to release PHP25,000 for each of the 22 fishermen under the Survival Response (SURE) Loan Program to help them recover from their losses after the unfortunate incident.

Magpapa-release ako ng PHP25,000 per family dun sa aming SURE loaning program para may pang-gastos sila (I will order the release of PHP25,000 per family from our SURE loaning program so they will have money to spend) for the meantime,” Piñol said.

He said the loan assistance is payable in three years with no collateral and no interest.

The fishermen also received from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) 11 30-foot fiberglass boats with engines, nets and other accessories.

Piñol said each boat will be shared by two fishermen so they could have another source of income while the F/B Gem-Ver 1 is being repaired.

In addition, each of the 22 fishermen also received one sack of rice from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The Department of Social Welfare and Development also gave the 22 fishermen PHP10,000 each and food packs, while CORDS, through Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, also gave the fishermen PHP10,000 each.

The DA chief said he has also tapped the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for additional funding, which will not be limited to assisting the 22 Mindoro fishermen but will also be used to buy ice-making machines and cold storage for all fishing grounds nationwide.

“I talked to President Alfredo Lim of Pagcor. Sabi ko baka pwedeng makatulong sila. So pinasulat nila ako sa board at humingi ako ng funding, hindi lang para sa Mindoro fishermen na apektado, pati na rin sa ibang fishing grounds na nangangailangan ng pagawaan ng ice at saka (I asked them for assistance. They said I should write to the board and ask for funding, not only for the affected Mindoro fishermen but also for those who need ice plants, as well as) cold storage,” Piñol said.

Fishing vessel F/B Gem-Ver 1 suffered major damage causing it to submerge off Recto Bank, leaving all 22 fishermen floating in the middle of the sea for about six hours before being rescued.

The incident caused the fishermen and the boat owner some PHP2 million in losses, including about three tons of high-value fish like Lapu-Lapu (grouper), worth PHP1 million; PHP500,000 in capital; and PHP700,000 for the fishing boat.

Meanwhile, Piñol said it is already time for the government to initiate the modernization of the country’s fishing boats.

“This incident should be an awakening incident for us that we should modernize the fisheries sector by offering them new, leveled up and modernized fishing boats made of steel,” he said.

Majority of the boats being used in the country for fishing are made of wood, which Piñol said, makes them very fragile.

To initiate the fishing boat modernization program, the agriculture chief said they are already drafting a proposal to be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

He said he believes that modernizing the fisheries sector will make fishing for the Filipino fisherfolk more convenient and efficient. (PNA)