Living and loving the law
His gentle demeanor and frail-looking appearance belie the steely inner strength and fierce determination to implement our largely lying “in the doldrums” fisheries and other environment laws. As Bantay Dagat (sea guardian), he holds sacred his pledge to follow and implement the law. He knew and accepted the risks to his life when he undertook his mission to protect our seas and the lives of those solely dependent on a healthy ocean.
An action-oriented Cebuano whom all Filipinos should be proud of, and one of the four Ocean Heroes awarded last month by Oceana Philippines, in partnership with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Norlan Pagal has set the standards for effective law enforcement. (http://ph.oceana.org/press-center/press-releases/tanon-strait-heroes-honored-world-oceans-day)
Not unlike the great Mahatma Gandhi and other courageous heroes we know, his life is indeed “his message.”
He personifies persistence amid all the pressures, and solid commitment. He was, as he still is, undeterred in performing his mandates, despite being the recipient of three attempts on his life. The first happened when the dynamites thrown his way did not explode and the second when he was hit in the head by two people, breaking his skull which required 14 stitches. He knew he was the target of the angry and greedy illegal fishers who were affected by the no-nonsense implementation of the law. But he continued to perform his regular activities of guarding the fish sanctuaries, apprehending violators and being a vocal force in meetings, when a gunshot in October last year shattered his spine and left him paralyzed.
His physical movements might be restricted now, but as he shared with the students at the University of Cebu in Banilad campus last week, he is more energized, and his morale considerably boosted by the deeply appreciated support from San Remegio Mayor Mariano Martinez, his family, colleagues and friends and his growing network of fellow advocate and, if I may add, “fans.”
He knows more about fishing than perhaps any college graduate of fisheries courses. He started fishing at the young age of 9, when our fisheries were still in a glorious state of abundance. He said that they had target species of fishes then and could choose which to harvest; unlike now, when clearly, the fish populations have a drastic decline the past decades.
Artisanal fishers could barely bring enough to feed their family. The fisheries crisis is such that they are officially declared by the Philippines Statistics Authority as the “poorest of the poor” — a telling state of neglect for their needs and the vastly degraded marine environment that they are solely dependent on.
Like most subsistence fisherfolk, Norlan did not finish elementary level. He never thought of pursuing his formal education because the oceans then provided for all their needs and more. But sadly, such is no longer the case. Decades of illegal commercial and destructive fishing in our municipal waters, obliteration of marine habitats, destructive coastal developments such as reclamation and pollution have heavily impacted the capacity of our oceans to recharge and replenish resources.
Norlan became a Bantay Dagat enforcer in 2002 where he learned that our laws provided the mechanisms for sustainable management of our fisheries including penal sanctions for those violating them. He uses the combined cultural approach of diplomacy and forgiveness and, when these fail, he would not hesitate to avail of the procedural justice system for violators. He calls the strategic tools of appealing to the sense of right and wrong as “konsyensya” and applying the justice system as “sentensya.”
Norlan’s advice to the students was to lay open and share their hearts, stimulate and use their minds and be steadfast in living the learned values to protect our environment. He reminded them that we are all interconnected, citing the plastic waste as a destroyer of the marine ecosystems and the resources such as corals and seagrass, aside from causing flooding due to clogged canals and waterways.
The University of Cebu and Oceana made possible the memorable encounter between Norlan and the college students, for which we are all grateful. We hope that more universities in Cebu and in the country will expose our young citizens and leaders to a first-hand encounter of real life heroes who have arisen above challenges and are winning.
On a personal note, the two-day sessions with Norlan have reinforced my belief that each of us has the mission of effecting a difference in this world and in fighting for a goal bigger than anyone of us.
Norlan is my hero. He lives and loves the law I have long desired to be fully respected by citizens and authorities alike. Mabuhay ka, Norlan!
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