Filipino fisherman and an eco-warrior among 5 winners of Asia’s Nobel Prize

September 3, 2021

A fisherman, who is also an environmental defender, from the southern Philippines is one of the five winners of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award.

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation named the winners – a Filipino fisherman, a Bangladeshi scientist, a Pakistani entrepreneur, a 64-year-old humanitarian worker, and an Indonesian media group – in an online meeting this week.

The Foundation cited Roberto “Ka Dodoy” Ballon, a 53-year-old fisherman from Zamboanga Sibugay in Mindanao, for his “shining example of how everyday acts of heroism can truly be extraordinary and transformative.”

“He is being recognized 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,” the Foundation said in a statement.

In 1986, Ka Dodoy and other fishermen established Kapunungan sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion, or Association of Small Fishermen of Concepcion. 

He led the group in a mangrove reforestation project to combat the impacts of rampant fishpond conversion, which destroyed mangrove forests in the area.

“With little help and meager returns (since the benefits of reforestation are not

felt quickly), the association saw its members dwindle to just three but Ka Dodoy, the association chairman, persisted,” the Foundation said in the citation.

The works of the fishermen’s association attracted government support. In 2020, they were granted tenurial rights to the reforested land under a government forestry co-management program. 

The fifty hectares they replanted by 1994 had expanded to five hundred hectares of mangrove forests in 2015.

“What was once a desert of abandoned fishponds is now an expanse of healthy mangrove forests rich with marine and terrestrial life,” the citation read. 

The perseverance of Ka Dodoy and the fishermen of Concepcion has led to the improvement of their livelihood. 

Fish catch has improved dramatically from 1.5 kg per fishing trip of eight hours to as much as 7.0 kg in three to five hours of fishing. 

“The improvement in the fisherfolk’s quality of life has been evident in their ability to buy a boat engine or simple household appliances and send their children to school,” the Foundation said.

Some 320 households are now members of the association from a handful of fishermen when it started. 

Ka Dodoy and the other winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Award will receive a medallion embossed with a right side-facing profile of the late President, a certificate, and a cash prize.

The presentation of awards will be held on November 28 at the Ramon Magsaysay Center in Manila. 

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