Fishers rebuke lifting of commercial fishing ban within 15-km municipal waters

By Lollipop de los Reyes, Leticia Milano-Salami and Gerry Albert Corpuz
MANILA, Philippines- (UPDATE) A militant alliance of small fisherfolk groups on Friday assailed a proposal allowing large, medium-sized and small commercial fishing vessels to fish within the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters describing the it as all-the-way massacre of small fisherfolk rights to livelihood and social justice.
In a public hearing recently conducted in Cebu City, Cebu 2nd district Rep. Pablo Garcia said large-scale commercial fishing vessels should be allowed to operate in the 15-kilometer municipal fishing areas to make sure there are enough fish for Filipinos, which small fisherfolk cannot produce because small fishermen only use hook and line compared to the fishing instruments used by commercial fishers.

But the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya)said the proposal will agitate the 7 million small fisherfolk in the country to revolt to what the group described as the grandmother of all giant kill against the livelihood rights and welfare.

“What kind of political animal is Rep. Garcia? No sane person will propose this kind of outrageous and stupid undertaking. He is even worse than Adolf Hitler,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The Pamalakaya leader said the proposal will automatically slaughter the livelihood of more than 300,000 small fishing operators and the more than 600,000 paddle-using fishermen across the country, excluding hundreds of thousands of non-boat owning fishermen across the country.

“This aging, has-been and Jurassic politician from Cebu should be condemned to the highest order,” added Hicap.

Pamalakaya said aside from lifting the ban on commercial fishing vessels in the 15-kilometer municipal waters, other amendments proposed to make Fisheries Code extremely anti-fisherfolk and pro-fish lords are the proposal to bid the use of fishing waters to private sectors and the elimination of the preferential rights to small fisherfolk where they have to bid and pay for amounts prescribed by local government units before they can fish.

“The proposed amendments to fish code transform the communal fishing grounds into a private property of the few, and that those who make use of fishing areas, should first pay the state, before they will be allowed to fish. That’s really revolting and grossly agitating,” the group said.

Rep. Garcia warned Congress if Congress will not amend the law especially on Section 90 of RA 8550, which bans commercial fishing within the 15-kilometer radius, time will come when the wet markets will run out of fish because marginal fishermen cannot produce more.

The Cebu lawmaker said that the primary aim to amend the law and to create the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) is to ensure food security. Rep. Garcia reiterated the problem is that the catch of marginal fishermen is enough for them and their families with no excess available for sale in the markets.

Rep. Garcia said Presidential Decree 704, the old fisheries law, allowed commercial fishing within seas seven fathoms deep. Under Garcia’s proposal there would be no more definition of municipal waters that would effectively give the right to commercial fishing vessels to fish in small fisherfolk’s territory.

Pamalakaya suggested lawmakers to first undertake a thorough review of the Fisheries Code of 1998, pursue the law’s repeal and work out its replacement by a progressive edict that would be responsive to the collective interest of 7 million people directly and indirectly dependent on fishing.

Rep. Garcia and other lawmakers at the House of Representatives are pushing for the legislative approval of a bill creating the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which would focus on conservation, development and use of the country’s marine resources.

The push for new fisheries department is led by Agham party list Rep. Angelo Palmones who said that all relevant functions in fisheries currently under the disposal of the Department of Agriculture will be transferred to the new department.

Rep. Palmones said the bill is endorsed by the House Committee on Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. He expressed confidence that Congress will pass the bill into a law that will see to it the promotion of strong regulatory body that will adequately guard, conserve and sustainably manage the country’s fishery resources.

The partly list lawmaker said the creation of the fisheries department is timely in the wake of the country’s renewed assertion of its economic rights within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

But Pamalakaya said the proposed creation of fisheries department will just promote another level of bureaucracy and will breed more bureaucrat capitalists in the government because the fisheries law which the department will implement is the same extreme pro-fish lords, pro-monopoly and anti-fisherfolk piece of legislation.
What’s the use

“What’s the use of fisheries of department to small fisherfolk? Nothing, definitely nothing because what we will be talking here are the same laws, the same policies and the same programs in fisheries which denied social justice to 7 million fishers and fishing dependent families,” the group noted.

The proposed fisheries department would have primary jurisdiction over the management, conservation, development, protection, utilization and disposition of all aquaculture, fisheries and aquatic resources of the country, including habitats of fish and all other marine life and other activities which impact on the habitats, except for municipal waters.

Under the proposed department, municipal waters would remain under the jurisdiction of local government units in accordance with national fisheries policies, laws, rules and regulations. The bill mandates the proposed fisheries department to supervise and regulate production and capture of fish and fishery products, as well as the processing and marketing of all aquaculture, fisheries and other aquatic products .

To accomplish its tasks, the proposed fisheries department will lead to the creation of 6 bureaus for fishery economics and statistics, for aquaculture and inland fisheries, fishing technology and capture fisheries, fisheries extension, training and support services, marine resources conservation, management and enforcement and for post harvest and fisheries product standards.

The bill seeks to establish 16 regional field offices and six national fisheries technology centers with an initial budget of P 10 billion and another P 500 million for the construction of its own national office building.

The group theorized that the creation of fisheries department will lead to the implementation of quota system in fishing, where small fisherfolk will be compelled to capture only a certain and defined volume of fish every day.

Pamalakaya said the new fisheries department will engage in daily money making scheme where the government will sell or lease license to fish under the quota system. It said those who can buy or lease franchise from the government to fish would have a grand time in controlling the resources.

“The regulation aspect is not to preserve the marine environment and resources. That’s baloney. The real score is the national government will allow big fishing monopolies to extract resources from Philippine municipal and offshore waters if the price is right. We can read that between the lines,” the group added.

In 2010, an impact assessment conducted by the non-government environmental group Center for Environmental Concern (CEC Philippines) in partnership with the regional and local chapters of the Pamalakaya revealed that the country’s central law passed in 1998 failed to uplift the lives of more than 7 million population directly and indirectly dependent on fishing.

In their paper entitled “14 years of Fisheries Code, Filipino Fisherfolk Still Fish in Troubled Waters, CEC Philippines and Pamalakaya asserted that Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Law of 1998 failed to raise the standard of living of small fisherfolk and was very dismal in protecting marine and inland environment from destruction by corporate monopoly interests.

According to Pamalakaya and CEC Philippines, in 2006, a study conducted by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NCSB) found out the fisherfolk sector has the highest poverty incidence in the country. The NSCB revealed the fisherfolk; the farmers and the children comprised the poorest sectors across-the-country with poverty incidence of 49.9 percent, 44 percent and 40.8 percent respectively.

In the same study, 2006, the fisherfolk sector posted the highest increase in poverty incidence, which is 22.7 percent, compared with farmers with 11.7 percent, senior citizens with 11.3 percent, and urban poor with 8.5 percent, a glaring proof that the 13-year old fisheries law was never been a social justice act of legislation.

The NSCB 2006 report also revealed the poorest fishermen in the country are found in Caraga region, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in Region V, or the Bicol region, which comprises the provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. The same study bared the least poor fishermen are found in Regions III, II and the National Capital Region.

According to the impact assessment research, a large section of the population of fisher people or about 637,000 fishermen still use paddle for fish capture, and about three million more merely offer their labor power for a share on net profit to lower middle fishermen, middle fishermen and upper middle fishermen. The country has 313,000 registered municipal fishing boats individually owned by same number of people.

During the Pamalakaya-CEC consultation, fishermen from Habagat in Batangas narrated how commercial fishing vessels continue to plunder the municipal fishing waters in Nasugbu, Lian, Calatagan and other fishing towns of the province.

Habagat reported the regular presence of 20 commercial fishing vessels in the fishing district of Batangas where they stayed for three successive days. These fishing vessels are capable of harvesting 100 tons of fish per fishing operation, siphoning whatever is reserved for small fishermen within the 15- kilometer municipal fishing water.

In Ticao town in Masbate, Pamalakaya-Masbate said fisherfolk are used to encounter 10 big commercial fishing boats inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing area. Operators of commercial fishing vessels argued they are allowed to fish within the 10.1 kilometer to 15 kilometer under the 7-fathom rule as prescribed in the fisheries code. But there were reports these commercial fishing giants went beyond the 10.1 limit insisting the 7 fathom-deep rule is decisive and legalizes their aggressive entry in the entire 15-km municipal fishing ground.

In La Union, around 37 commercial fishing vessels frequent the municipal fishing towns of the province, and only 10 of them were allowed to fish according to officials of provincial and local government units. Sightings of aggressive commercial fishing are also reported in most of the municipal fishing towns in Leyte and Samar.

“The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 is notorious for imposing zoning ordinance, exorbitant fees and regressive taxation. Under RA 8550, local government units are empowered to impose zoning ordinances under the guise of environmental protection and regeneration of marine resources. Violators of zoning ordinance will be fined ranging from P 1,500 per offense to P 60,000 per offense, indeed, a money making scheme for national and local government units,” the groups added.

While allowing commercial fishing giants to harvest and enjoy the bounty of marine products even inside the 15-kilometer municipal area, LGUs had restricted and limited fishing access and activities to small fisherfolk. The situation resulting from imposition of zoning ordinance and effective fishing ban forced the small fisherfolk to fish in nearby coastal towns.

The effect is disastrous. Small fisherfolk are forced to fish for more fishing hours because they have to go farther, spend more money to enhance the capability of their boats and gears, spend more money for gasoline, oil and food and face the risk of being arrested by local authorities of other towns which imposed the same zoning ordinance against “foreign intruders

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