Among the five awardees of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2021, the only Filipino was Robert “Ka Dodoy” Ballon. 

Ballon, who’s a native of a fishing village in Zamboanga Sibugay, was recognized for his efforts in improving the lives of his fellow fishermen, specifically in addressing the lowering of catch rates in their area. 

However, Ballon said he wasn’t expecting any type of recognition for his work.

“Hindi tayo makapaniwala na sa layo ng Zamboanga Sibugay at tayo’y isang simple lamang na mangingisda na ginagawa lamang yung programa natin para protektahan at alagaan yung ating marine resources sa dagat, para isa sa mga pamamaraan po namin na maihanon ang aming mga kabuhayan o mga pamilya,” he told ANC’s Rundown.

It was in 1986 when Ballon, alongside 30 other fishermen, founded the Kapunungan sa Gamay nga Mangingisda sa Concepcion, an organization that aimed to boost the catch rates of fishermen in their community through mangrove reforestation. 

“Noon kasi nung mga dekada, ochenta sitenta ay napakarami talagang isda sa aming lugar. Iba’t ibang uri ng mga yamang tubig, alimasag, alimango, at marami yung kabuhayan. Pagdating ng mga bandang 2000, talagang naghihirap na kami dahil pansin namin na talagang nauubos na yung mga isda, at napansin din namin noon na nung maraming isda at maganda ang aming huli napansin namin na napakarami noong mangroves,” Ballon explained.

According to the award-giving body, the efforts of the group soon bore fruit and lead to the influx of fish. From 1.5 kilos of fish caught during an eight-hour trip, the catch rate improved to seven kilos in just three to five hours of fishing.

Due to the success of Ballon and his group’s reforestation program, the community’s way of life was significantly enhanced. Households were able to afford boats and simple household appliances, and most important, children were able to go to school. 

According to Ballon, he sees the award as an opportunity to help improve the lives of other fishing communities.

“Malaking pasasalamat po namin sa Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation dahil po sa pamamagitan ng binigay nilang award, ay isa ho itong pamamaraan para po mapaabot natin sa ating kasamahang mangingisda sa iba pong lugar na sana magaya o gawin din nila, na kung ano yung ginawa namin dito na kung saan ito yung paraan na umahon kami sa kahirapan. Sana makarating din ito sa iba pang mga lugar sa buong Pilipinas at ibang bansa,” he said

The Ramon Magsaysay Award—the highest accolade in Asia akin to the Nobel Prize—is granted annually to individuals and organizations who instigate positive change in their communities. 

Learn more about Robert Ballon by watching the video below!

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Image credit: Ramon Magsaysay Award’s Official Facebook Page