Pagal: An ocean hero
Things are much different now for the fisherfolk of San Remigio, a third-class municipality located in the northwestern part of Cebu.
Incidents of illegal fishing have dwindled and the town enjoys bountiful harvests from the seas.
“Maka-ingon gyud ka nga lahi ra siya sa una. Usahay lagi ang bangka na mismo magtakilid tungod sa kadaghan sa isda nga makuha (You can really say that things are different from before. Sometimes, the boat will tilt because of an abundant catch),” said Norlan Pagal, a 49-year-old sea patroller who is forever bound on a wheelchair.
In 2015, Pagal — then the Bantay Dagat officer of Barangay Anapog, San Remigio town — was shot in the back by still unidentified gunmen after attending a fiesta celebration.
Although he survived the ordeal, the bullet hit his spinal cord resulting to Pagal’s paralysis.
He has since been unable to walk; but this did not stop him from trying to protect the seas of San Remigio.
With the help of his binoculars and handheld radio, Pagal continued to watch the waters from afar contacting nearby seaborne watchmen in case anything fishy popped into his view.
“Pero naa say panahon nga akong hangyoon akong anak nga itulod ang wheelchair padung sa baybay para makatutok gyud ug ayo (But there are times when I ask my child to push my wheelchair nearer to the shore to get a closer look.),” said Pagal.
For his unwavering dedication to their cause, Oceana Philippines recognized Pagal as “Ocean Hero” in 2016.
His work in protecting the seas, despite his disability, has also been an inspiration for other fisherfolk in the town.
San Remigio has eight marine sanctuaries which form part of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape.
“Sa una, magbugsay ra mi mamadlong sa mga mangisda nga dili taga San Remigio ug kanang mugamit sa mga ginadili. Karun, pasalamat sad mi naa nami mga pump boats (Before, we paddled to get to the seas to apprehend fishermen who were not from
San Remigio and those who used illegal means. Now, we’re very thankful we have pump boats),” he added.
Recently, Pagal gained international recognition as the only Filipino among eight individuals from different countries cited for their advocacy in addressing issues plaguing the world’s oceans this year.
He was recognized as Ocean Awards 2018’s Local Hero by Blue Marine Foundation, one of UK’s largest marine conservation groups and Boat International, a publishing house behind some of the world’s most prominent luxury and lifestyle magazines.
“Dako gyud akong pasalamat ani sa mga nitabang namo. Gikan sa mga kauban namo manglawud, sa local government ug sa mga charities. Wa gyud nako damha nga maabot diay siya sa tibuok kalibutan (I am very grateful to the fishermen, the local government, and charities for this. It did not occur to me that this will reach worldwide),” Pagal said.
Ocean Awards has annually recognized people all over the world for their contributions in preserving the oceans and seas since 2014.
Environmental lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, believed that recognizing their efforts was one of the best ways to empower ordinary fisherfolk.
“Even recognition from government is a big victory and joy for them. How much more if their names are mentioned, citing them for their efforts. These are precious gifts for them,” said Ramos.
For his part, Pagal vowed to continue the fight to protect and preserve San Remigio’s marine sanctuaries even if the biggest challenge right now for fisherfolk like him was passing on the responsibility as guardians of the seas to the future generation.
“Kasagaran namo karun, may edad na. Sila na sunod ang muatiman sa atong kadagatan ug hinaot gyud unta mas manindot pa nila (Most of us now are getting old. They’re the ones who will take care of our seas next and hopefully, they can do it better than us),” said Pagal.
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