By Sugar Hicap
Cebu City- Fisherfolk groups in the island provinces of Bohol, Cebu and Negros today declare the 12-year old Fisheries Code of 1998 a major disaster, saying the next Congress should prioritize its repeal and replace it a new fisheries law that is progressive and responsive to the demand of the marginal fishermen across-the-country.
Leaders of Bokkana-Bohol, Pamana-Sugbo and Pamalakaya-Negros, the three island wide chapters of the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) in Central Visayas and Western Visayas said the law enacted during the time of former President Fidel Ramos failed to achieve its goal, which is to empower the Filipino fisherfolk and raise the standard of living of not less than 1.3 million small fishermen and fish workers, and other 8 million people eking their livelihood from fishing and fish culture.
Enacted on Feb.24, 1998, the Fisheries Code replaced Presidential Decree 704 implemented during the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos. The post-Martial Law code reserves the 15-kilometer municipal fishing area to small fisherfolk and taps fisherfolk organizations as “Bantay Dagat” to help government enforcers in catching fishermen using dynamite and other forms of illegal fishing and drive away commercial fishing vessels from encroaching the reserved fishing area for marginal fishermen.
However, there are exceptions and loopholes in the law that allows big time commercial fishing vessels to penetrate the 15-kilometer municipal fishing area, if the waters inside the 15-municipal fishing area are 7 fathoms deep. In many cases, commercial fishing companies enter the municipal fishing grounds because of the 7-fathom exception.
“The 1998 fisheries law is either a comprehensive failure or a running nightmare or both. It has done nothing to alleviate the sorry situation of small fishers. The fisheries code is supposed to raise the standard of living of 10 million fishers and their dependents. But look at the fisherfolk now, they are the poorest people all over the country,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.
The Pamalakaya leader said Fisheries Code of 1998, which is hyped a protective law failed to stop large-scale destructive fishing, offshore mining in Central Visayas and Negros Island and now the offshore reclamation in Panglao Island, province of Bohol.
Hicap said the Fisheries Code reduced fisherfolk as sidekick law enforcers of the maritime police of the Philippine National Police (PNP) or reserve troops of the Philippine Navy.
The Pamalakaya leader said the 1998 fisheries law effectively limited the scope of fishing from communal practice to zone divided fishing with the implementation of zoning ordinance and color coding that bars fisherfolk from fishing to nearby municipalities or provinces.
Hicap said the 1998 fisheries law also legalized extortion and corruption, with local government officials imposing fees and taxes to small scale fishermen as to use of boats, nets and other fishing gears.
He said the 12-year central law in local fisheries sector also failed to combat global warming, and on the contrary promoted the massive conversion of fishing areas and public lands along coastal and lakeshores into aquaculture hub, industrial zones and eco-tourism spots.
Pamalakaya, its regional and provincial chapters in Central Visayas and Negros Island will lead the drafting of a new fishery law that would be submitted to next Congress for approval.
Tentatively billed as Genuine Fisheries and Aquatic Reform Bill (GFARB), the new fisheries act envisioned by small fisherfolk seeks to nationalize the backward fishing industry, ban all government and private activities that destroy the marine fishing areas like offshore mining and reclamation, and other forms of privatization and conversion of all communal fishing areas and coastal communities.
The GFARB will immediately reserve the exclusive use of 15-km municipal fishing ground to small fisherfolk, stop massive fish importation activities, distribute existing corporate fishponds to fishermen associations and organizations, and ensure production subsidies to poor fisherfolk.