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Pinoy fisherfolk leader Roberto Ballon wins 2021 Ramon Magsaysay Award

By Jose Oscar Magpusao

Zamboanga Sibugay-based environmentalist Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon will be among the five recipients of the 63rd Ramon Magsaysay Awards, which is widely regarded as Asia’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize, the foundation announced during a virtual event on Tuesday.

After being forced to cancel the previous year due to the global pandemic, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation recognized Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon 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.”

The foundation planned the formal honoring of the five awardees on November 28, 2021 should the circumstances of the pandemic improve.

The foundation specifically commended Ballon for the efforts he and thirty other fisherfolk went through in 1986 to halt the rampant fishpond conversion and destruction of mangrove forests by forming the Kapunungan sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Conception (KGMC).

Upon experiencing meager returns, KGMC’s numbers dwindled to just three members, but Ballon persisted and eventually gained government support, being granted tenurial rights to the reforested land under a government forestry co-management program.

By 1994, Ballon had replanted fifty hectares of land and, by 2015, they had reforested up to five hundred hectares of mangrove forests, which led to a massive resurgence of marine and terrestrial life.

This effectively improved fishing conditions in the area by a significant amount, wherein previously a fishing trip lasting eight hours would yield only 1.5 kilos of fish, the revitalized area can now yield as much as 7 kilos of fish in the same amount of time.

The KGMC thrived under Ballon’s leadership, now boasting 320 households contributing to the effort, which now involved a number of other projects aimed towards protecting municipal waters from illegal fishing and mangrove logging, among other things.

“The key mover in this transformation is Dodoy Ballon. His exceptional dedication to serving others and self-sacrificing leadership that puts the group’s interest before his own have transformed his community,” the foundation said in their official press release.

“Our families depend on the sea for our survival, not on politicians or other people, so it is only right that we make its protection our priority,” the statement read, quoting Ballon.

Ballon’s achievement garnered praises from key personalities who showed their support and pride for the humble fisherman, among which was Vice President Leni Robredo.

“Congratulations, Ka Dodoy. Isang ordinaryong mangingisda na binago ang buhay ng mga kapwa niya mangingisda sa Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay dahil sa sakripisyo, pagod, at determinasyon. Binuhay nila muli ang katubigan na nagbibigay sa kanila ng kabuhayan sa pagtatanim ng 500 hectares of mangrove. Ngayon, buhay na buhay muli ang fisherfolk community nila at, selflessly, binabahagi nila ang kaalaman at aral sa iba pang mga communities. Naimbita na namin siya sa OVP at sa lalawagan namin sa Camarines Sur noong 2019 para ma mentor niya yung mga mangingisda na tinutulungan namin,” Robredo said in a Facebook post on Tuesday evening.

In a separate post, former Agriculture Secretary and Mindanao Development Authority Chairperson Emmanuel Piñol also lauded Ballon for being the lone Filipino recipient of the prestigious award for community service.

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