By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Rey Manangan and Billy Javier Reyes
MANILA, Philippines-Some 50 fisherfolk leaders and environmental activists today urged President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy Aquino III to indefinitely suspend the implementation of the Fisheries Code of 1998 otherwise known as Republic Act No. 8550 for the law’s failure to protect the livelihood and marine environment all over the country.
At the launching of the first National Fisherfolk Conference on Fisheries Code of 1998 and Marine Resources held at the conference room of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) in Quezon City , leaders of the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) from the provinces of La Union, Rizal, Batangas, Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate in Luzon, Samar and Leyte in Eastern Visayas, Cebu and Iloilo in the Visayas and Sarangani in Mindanao and environmental experts from Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC-Philippines), Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center (Fidec) and Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment said President Aquino can suspend RA 8550 by issuing an executive order.
“We strongly urge President Aquino to call on Congress to stop the implementation of RA 8550 and task both Houses of chambers to undertake impact assessment and performance evaluation of the 12-year old fisheries law. The reports from the grassroots concerning the impact of the law on small fisherfolk is highly alarming and life threatening,” conference organizersFernando Hicap of Pamalakaya and CEC-Philippines executive director Ces Quimpo said in a joint statement.
Based on the preliminary assessment conducted by Pamalakaya and CEC-Philippines, the 12-year old was a comprehensive failure, asserting further that RA 8550 failed to meet its objectives in uplifting the lives of small fishermen, promote food security for 94 million Filipinos and protect the environment from internal and external factors.
Pamalakaya, CEC-Philippines, Kalikasan-PNE and Fidec raised the following conclusions why Fisheries Code failed to provide meaningful reforms in local fisheries and should be repealed if not indefinitely suspended while Congress is studying what to do either to amend the law or have it replaced with a progressive fisheries law.
1. RA 8550 failed to raise the standard of living among fisherfolk. Before the law was enacted average fish harvest and average fish income prior to the enactment of RA 8550 was 10-15 kilos per day and about P 200- P 300 per day. Under the fish code regime, average catch and income dropped to 3kilos -5 kilos per day or P 50-P 75 per day.
2. The 12-year old law fisheries law led to massive privatization of communal fishing grounds. The national government and local government units to transact business with private groups to establish hectares of beach resorts, fish pens and fish cages biased to finance and export capital at the expense of Filipino fisherfolk, the local environment and national patrimony.
3. The law is extremely biased to big business. Commercial fishing vessels are allowed to enter even in the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters which are reserved to small fishermen. Large scale aquaculture activities are also set up in the 15-km municipal fishing waters further delimiting access of small fisherfolk to the marine resources reserved to them within the municipal fishing water territories.
4. The proliferation of fish sanctuaries all over the country was not meant for marine environmental protection and resource regeneration but for profit motivated activities like eco-tourism. Fish sanctuaries have become synonymous with tourism and water-based rest and recreation activities.
5. The Fisheries Code of 1998 further reduced the scope and coverage of fishing activities among small fisherfolk. Ordinances such as zoning ordinance and color coding prevent fisherfolk from exercising their communal rights to the country’s archipelagic waters
6. RA 8550 is not a fisherfolk empowerment piece of legislation. It is actually a money making scheme. Since 1998, fisherfolk caught for minor offenses in violations of the 12-year fisheries law are fined with exorbitant fees ranging from P 1,500 to a high of P 60,000 per offense, while big players in the industry which committed high crimes in fisheries managed to escape by bribing officials and law enforcers all over the country.
Pamalakaya also noted that the Fisheries code of 1998 also failed to uphold the country’s national sovereignty and patrimony. The militant group said the fisheries law was never ranged nor cited in the country’s negotiations of various government treaties entered by the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Pamalakaya said RA 8550 was never referred during the Arroyo government’s negotiations on the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa) and the recently concluded RP-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), where a number of provisions have something to do with production and mobilization of fishery resources.
The militant group also said RA 8550 was never treated as reference in allowing foreign companies to conduct offshore mining activities in the country referring to the oil and gas hunts in Tanon Strait in Cebu and Bohol, in Cebu-Bohol Strait, in Palawan and Spratly areas and recently ExxonMobil’s one hundred million offshore stunt in Sulu Sea.