MANILA, Philippines – Roben Abdella, the first Badjao to graduate magna cum laude from the Mindanao State University-Tawi-Tawi in 2015 will be asked to lead a new project under the Department of Agriculture (DA).
On Tuesday, August 9, DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that he is meeting Abdella in Tawi-Tawi to offer him to lead Bantay Laut, a project aimed at drafting “the seafaring Badjaos to become guardians of the waters and seas.”
Described by the agriculture secretary as both a social and environmental program, the Bantay Laut aims to employ the Badjaos, people who consider the seas as their second homes, to help clean the waters.
“We will pay them under the condition that they will allow their sons and daughters to go to school,” Piñol added. The agency will be allocating P50 million pesos for the project.
The idea to launch the Bantay Laut would have not dawned the agriculture secretary had he not read a Rappler story about Abella.
In April 2015, Rappler wrote a story about Abdella who graduated magna cum laude from the Mindanao State University (MSU) Tawi-Tawi. Aside from hurdling the challenges brought by financial constraints, Abdella also managed to rise above the discrimination people usually attach to the Sama Dilaut, an ethnic group that also identifies as Badjaos.
“When I read the story, I was inspired. I asked myself: what do I do to make this boy work for his craft and his people? So we called him up. We are asking him to head the Bantay Laut program,” Piñol said.
In a previous interview, MSU Tawi-Tawi professor Basil Sali said that people perceive Badjaos as illiterate and inferior. One of the reasons could be that some parents would rather have their children go fishing instead of studying so they can earn money. (READ: The sea gypsies of Tawi Tawi)
The Bantay Laut is one of the four programs Piñol suggested where the DA and DENR could collaborate together.
“It is a must that the environment must be protected for Philippine agriculture to flourish. This is where we have a concerted effort with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,” Piñol said.
Other programs include “Bantay Kagubatan,” “Masagana at Malinis na Karagatan (MMK),” and “Eco-Friendly Fish Farming.”
Under Bantay Kagubatan, a program which Piñol claims DENR Secretary Gina Lopez loved, the government agencies plan to incentivize poor families who will be identified to protect trees planted under the government’s reforestation program. Piñol said that each family is expected to earn P600,000 gross per hectare from the program.
Meanwhile, the MMK aims to implement a nationwide program against illegal fishing and a three-month closed season during the spawning period of the distinct fish species in the different parts of the country.
The Eco-Friendly fish farming program, on the other hand, aims to fill up the fish requirements of Metro Manila with good tasting and clean fish.
“These are the realizations of the dream of President Rodrigo Duterte, to bring everyone together, under one flag and under one nation,” Piñol said. – Rappler.com