What happened to the proposed ordinance regulating abaca “bakbak” gathering?
posted 5-Jun-2019  ·  
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Last May 7, 2019, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued Memorandum Circular No. 2019-66 enjoining all abaca-producing local government units to issue their respective local ordinances banning the illegal harvesting, buying, selling and mutilating of young leaf sheaths of abaca plants also known as “bakbak” or “umbak.”

The DILG was acting on a resolution of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) recommending the issuance of such an ordinance in order to help the fiber industry control and regulate the harvesting of immature leaf sheaths of abaca and control the spread of abaca diseases.

With abaca as a top export commodity of the Philippines supplying about 85% of the total world production with a high demand in global trade as raw materials for cordage, handicraft and textile papers, the Council noted that it contributed an estimated P3.15 billion in revenue in 2015 and provided employment to 1.5 million Filipinos.

The practice of harvesting young leaf sheaths poses threats to the industry, it pointed out, since these affect the quality of abaca fibers harvested, resulting to low export quality fibers. The buying and selling of “bakbak” also increases the spread of abaca viral diseases during transport.

So far, only the provinces of Sorsogon and Camarines Sur were cited to have issued their respective ordinances prohibiting such a practice, in 2017 and 2015, respectively.

Both ordinances require gatherers of “bakbak” to secure a permit from the abaca-farmer-owner as a prerequisite in securing a barangay permit, with those buying from illegal gatherers to face sanctions.

“Practice of ‘bakbak’ or ‘umbak’ harvesting is proven present in the provinces of Catanduanes, Albay, Sorsogon, Leyte, Samar, Davao Oriental, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and Dinagat Islands,” the Council stated.

It may surprise the majority that despite its being the Abaca Capital of the Philippines for suppluing a third of the country’s abaca output, Catanduanes has yet to pass a similar ordinance.

For those who may have forgotten, in 2006 then PBM Nel Asanza proposed a resolution regulating “bakbak” gathering but the measure was shelved after then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo revoked Executive Order 502 that banned the harvesting and gathering of “bakbak” for commercial purposes.

Since then, nothing has been heard of the proposal.

In the succeeding years, the harvesting of “bakbak” flourished in this island, with no less than four traders specializing in the trade and shipping at least 40 tons of dried leaf sheaths every month to a company in San Fernando City, Pampanga.

Despite the appeal of officials of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) for the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to pass an ordinance regulating the abaca “bak-bak” trade and banning the “gilitan” system of artificially inducing dried leaf sheaths, no such local law came out of the legislative building.

While “bakbak” gathering appears to have gone down significantly, there remains some traders who ship the raw material out of the island.

Thus, the DILG’s effort to persuade LGUs to pass a measure regulating such a pernicious practice should be welcomed here in Catanduanes, particularly now that it is celebrating its 4th Abaca Festival this week.

Indeed, it would seem strange for the provincial administration, so committed to the development of the abaca industry and the welfare of 12,000 farmers and their families, to thumb down a measure that would preserve the island’s reputation as the biggest abaca producer in the whole world.

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