A broad front of fisherfolk and civil society groups and academic experts calls on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the members of Congress and the Senate to deny the proposal of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the commercial fishers to amend the Fisheries Code and allow commercial fishing inside the 15-kilometer municipal water zone of the sea.
In a statement released to the media Wednesday, the groups said the failure of the law’s implementation should not justify any amendment to the Philippine Fisheries Code.
Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food and the primary author of RA 10654 or the Fisheries Code, as amended, joins Oceana and the other groups as she commits towards enabling mechanisms for the strict implementation of the law.
The BFAR conducted consultations in May and on August 22-23, 2023, and presented their proposed amendments to the Philippine Fisheries Code, as amended, or Republic Act 10654.
Among these amendments was on Section 18, about the Users of Municipal Waters, seeking to allow commercial fishing as a rule rather than as an exception in the municipal waters, from 10.1 to 15kms, and in waters with the depth of 20 fathoms.
The coalition of stakeholders expressed their opposition to the said amendments during the consultations because this will aggravate the decades-old impacts of overfishing and declining fish catch.
“The glaring sentiment during the consultations is not the need to amend the law but the utter lack of political will in its implementation that has resulted in the abject condition of our ocean and fisheries population. The State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. to take steps to attain sustainable development of our fisheries sector is embedded in the amended Declaration of Policies of RA 10654 adopting the precautionary principle and ecosystem based approach to fisheries management and embodied in the provisions of the law through science-based fisheries management under the Fisheries Management Area System, among others,” said Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Oceana Vice President.
Academic experts and scientists presented to then BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona in 2019 data from the government’s National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP) that “unambiguously show” the status of overfished galunggong and sardines, the country’s top pelagic fish resources.
Fisheries scientists led by Dr. Wilfredo Campos of University of the Philippines Visayas and members of the National Scientific Advisory Group (NSAG), said in their letter to BFAR in 2019 that allowing commercial fishing activities inside 10.1km + from shore will have adverse impacts on municipal fishers.
They said that for every 5% increase in commercial fish catch, this will result in displacing 5000 municipal fishers.
Likewise, for every 10% increase in commercial fishing activity, there will be a resulting displacement of 10,000 municipal fishers or 50,000 fishers and their families will lose their livelihood source.
In a video message of the senator delivered during the forum of civil society coalition, PANAGAT – Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama recently, Villar said the passage of the amended Fisheries Code (RA 10654) in 2015 paved the way for the lifting by the European Union of the yellow card, and granted the Philippines the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) plus allowing 6,000 Philippine products including fisheries to enter EU without tariff.
“Umaasa po ako na ma-iimplement ang batas RA 10654 na ito para hindi maputol ang ating mga benepisyo mula sa GSP plus sa EU at para mapaganda ang buhay ng ating mangingisda sa municipal waters,” she added.
Fisherfolk lamented the failure of local government units and BFAR in addressing the persistent entry of commercial fishing vessels in municipal waters causing decline of their fish catch, destruction of important habitats that support fisheries, unfair competition and conflict with artisanal fisherfolk and overfishing.
Ruperto Aleroza, Vice Chairperson for Basic Sectors of the National Anti-Poverty Commission said: “Itinakda sa Batas ng Pangisdaan RA 10654 ang pagsasagawa ng mandatory review sa bawat ika limang taon at naniniwala ako na ang magandang layunin sa kautusang ito ay upang sukatin ang inabot sa pagpapatupad ng nasabing batas at alamin ang mga naging positibo at negatibong impact nito sa pangisdaan, sa mga mangingisda, mga stakeholders, at sa industriya sa kabuuan. Malinaw na ang isinasaad ay pag-review at hindi amendment. Ang anumang hakbang tungo sa kagyat na pagbabago sa alinmang probisyon nito ng hindi dumaan sa maayos at lubos na pagsusuri ay maaaring magtulak sa maling direksyon na posibleng magpalala sa masamang kalagayan ng ating pangisdaan. Bakit kailangang magmadali? Alalahaning ang nakataya dito ay ang maraming mamamayan na umaasa at nakikinabang sa produktong katubigan. Kaya marapat lamang na sila ay mabigyan din ng pagkakataong magbahagi ng kanilang pagsusuri at rekomendasyon. Kung kinikilala ang karapatan ng nakararami dapat isagawa ang masinsinang pagtatasa sa lahat ng rehiyon kasama ang mga lahat ng mangingisda. Ang magiging bunga ng mapanlahok na komsultasyon ang dapat anihin at pagsamasamahin bilang nagkakaisang rekomendasyon. Suriin, tasahin at paghalawan ng panukalang pagpapaunlad kung kinakailangan. Hindi dapat mauna ang kalesa sa kabayo.”
Oceana said the other important agencies involved in implementing the law, such as, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police Maritime Group, and the Philippine Coast Guard, among others, were not present in the BFAR’s consultations.
“They could have shared valuable inputs based on their mandates and experiences in implementing the fisheries law and regulations. Local government units were also underrepresented despite the proposed major amendments on the extent and utilization of the 15-km municipal waters during the meetings which can be argued as a violation of the principle of local autonomy guaranteed by the Constitution itself,” Ramos explained.
Martha Cadano, Regional Sectoral Chairman on Aquaculturee and Fisheries, Regional Agriculture and Fisheries Council (RAFC) for Region 8 remarked: “Ang ginawang assessment at review ng RA 10654 ay hindi sapat sapagkat walang malawak na partisipasyon ng taga LGU, mga opisyal nito o nasa legislative. Sana po ay isinangguni muna sa mga Local Chief Executives ng bawat bayan bago po gumawa ng anumang hakbang.”