Amended Philippine Fisheries Code makes ‘fishing a privilege’ – Pamalakaya
By ROBERT GREGORY ELARDO and AIRA MARIE E. SIGUENZA
Manila – “The right to fish is now a privilege for local fishermen. “
This is what Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap, president of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) said, Bulatlat in an interview.
Pamalakaya-Pilipinas is a national federation of small fishermen’s organizations founded in 1987 which aims to unite Filipino fishermen towards a real reform of the fishery.
The group recently organized a protest action in front of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), to condemn the Fisheries Law (Republic Law 10654) following the recent arrest of Binangonian fishermen for ” unauthorized fishing ”in Taguig. The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) fined them P 2,500 ($ 49.63) and confiscated the fish they caught because they did not have a proper MARINA license.
This is just one of the unfair cases experienced by Filipino fishermen under the law. Their situation will worsen with the proposed amendments to the fishing code.
RA 10654 steps up unfair policies against small-scale fishermen
Republic Law 10654, drafted by Senator Cynthia Villar, amended the Fisheries Code, setting tougher penalties and stricter rules to “prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing” in the country.
The amendment was a quick fix to the yellow card issued by the European Union (EU) to the Philippines in 2014 due to “illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing” in the country. The EU gave the country six months to verify if the warning would be lifted or if a “red card” would be issued. When that happens, there will be a total ban on the export of fish from the Philippines, which equates to billions of pesos in losses.
Read: Demystification of the fishing code: small fishermen deplore heavy fines and loss of their means of subsistence
Under this law, local fishermen must register, along with their boats, every year. Hicap said the registration process is very arbitrary and expensive as it requires a lot of papers, ID cards, certificates and serial numbers.
“This is a clear manifestation of a violation of the constitutional rights of Filipino fishermen since they cannot immediately fish in the waters of the country. Their livelihood becomes a privilege now, ”said Hicap.
Pursuant to Chapter IV, Article 86 of the amendment, these are the following fines to be imposed on those caught fishing without a license or permit:
• P50,000 to P100,000 ($ 970 to $ 1,940) for small-scale commercial fishing;
• P 150,000 to 500,000 ($ 2,900 to $ 9,700) for medium-scale commercial fishing; and,
• P1 million to P5 million ($ 19,440 to $ 97,000) for large-scale commercial fishing.
Fishermen must also report their catch and deterioration, their landing points, and the quantity and value of fish caught and landed for transhipment, sale and / or other disposal to the BFAR office, as they will be fined 5,000 P ($ 99.16). ) to P50,000 ($ 991.63) or forced to do community service if they cannot pay the penalty fee.
“This is clearly an extortion for small-scale fishermen, because getting to BFAR requires additional expense, so the fishermen have to pay more than what they earn,” Hicap added.
In addition, the law imposes an annual fishing ban in order to avoid the shortage of fish. However, Hicap testified that this is being faked as the administration uses it to bolster its import-dependent and export-oriented policies where it imports imported fish into the country, further distressing local fishermen.
“PAMALAKAYA is not totally against the ban on fishing, however, this should not pave the way for the import boom. Before implementing this policy, the government must equip itself. There should be enough food for the fishermen. The administration should support the production of small-scale fishermen instead of using Filipino money to buy imported fish, ”Hicap said.
In the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the incidence of poverty among fishermen is estimated at 26.2 percent. This is a slight improvement from 2015, when 36.9% of the country’s fishermen were classified as poor.
Read: The Fisheries Code worsened the poverty of fishermen for 20 years – group of fishermen
The group attributed this to the hunting rifle laws of different administrations like Republic Law 8550, exacerbating the problems of local fishermen instead of helping them.
“The 1998 Fisheries Code, from the very beginning, has been a canon law. It is designed to impoverish our fishermen, the poorest sector in the country remains the fishermen sector and poverty is very extreme in fishing villages all over the country ”, said the vice president of Pamalakaya, Salvador France, in a statement.
Philippine Fisheries Code over the years
Several laws and codes have been implemented to conserve the aquatic resources of the Philippines and protect Filipino fishermen. However, these laws are also oppressive for them.
The 1975 Presidential Decree on Fisheries (PD No. 704) paved the way for the establishment of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), which is responsible for development, enhancement, management and conservation fisheries and aquatic resources of the country. . This law also imposed regulations for sea and inland fishing, such as leases of fish ponds and the export and import of fish into the country.
Several sections of the decree were amended through PD 1015, allowing commercial fishing vessels to operate in Philippine waters less than seven fathoms deep. However, the decree also provides that the President can prohibit this operation at a distance of seven kilometers from the coast if there is a threat to marine resources or if the public interest requires it. This decree opened the way for foreign investors to use our marine resources for the sake of “global competitiveness”, leaving local fishermen the exclusive use of waters within seven kilometers of the shore.
The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 (RA 8550) delegates jurisdiction over waters to local governments. And due to movements organized by fishermen’s federations and other sectors, the seven kilometer fishing zone reserved for Filipinos was extended by the Code to a limit of 15 kilometers of municipal waters.
However, this law is also skewed in favor of foreign and large commercial fishermen, as previous administrations allocated 250 million pesos ($ 5.55 million) for the development of commercial fishing vessels and a minimum of 50 million pesos (1 , $ 11 million) for investments in aquaculture.
He also stepped up the dangerous fishing pond rental agreement, which allows individuals or groups to rent and occupy fishing waters.
“This agreement gives anyone the power to lease and occupy fish ponds for 25 years. After their semi-annual harvest, they use pesticides to kill fish and other species living in the ponds. Its harmful effect on the environment permeates the exterior of the ponds, especially during high and low tides, causing pollution, ”Hicap said.
Hicap also denounced the code because it ignores the 15 km exclusive fishing zone for Filipinos, as it still allows commercial fishing vessels to operate within a 10 to 21 km radius, leaving little or no opportunities for small fishermen.
In 2015, the 1998 fishing code was amended with more repressive provisions that severely affect local fishermen, especially in times of crisis.
Policy makers attributed the strict implementation of the fishing code to overfishing by small-scale fishermen, however, Hicap said that “overfishing occurs in commercial fishing. You will not see overfishing among municipal fishermen. The way they fish and the tools used by municipal fishermen are sustainable because they are small in scale.
Read: In the amended Fisheries Code, large foreign fishermen rule the seas
He added that artisanal fishermen are already happy even if they only catch 10 kilograms, saying that an overnight operation of commercial fishing boats is equivalent to a month of night fishing by artisanal fishing boats.
Pamalakaya calls for a real reform of the fishery that will really benefit their sector. (RTS, RVO)