Civil society organizations (CSOs) and fishers groups are not letting their guard down on a proposal in Congress to allow large commercial fishing operations in the country’s municipal waters.
Together with Oceana, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama and Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Mangingisda (PANGISDA) Pilipinas aired their call to the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to lead the opposition to House Bill 7853, allowing commercial fishing operations in the country’s municipal waters.
“We need to uphold the law and complete the implementation of reforms under the amended Fisheries Code. Sa halip na tulungan ang mga maliliit na mangingisda na mapaunlad ang kanilang kapasidad na makapangisda ng tama upang lumago ang kanilang kabuhayan at makaalpas sa kagutuman, ibubukas pa nila ang municipal water sa komersyal na mangingisda. Ang lahat ng pagsisikap na iangat ang produksyon ng pangisdaan at paunlarin ang buhay ng mga municipal na mangingisda ay mababale-wala. (Instead of supporting the artisanal fisherfolk improve their capacity and efficiency in their fishing efforts that will improve their livelihood and rise above from from hunger and malnutrition, they will open up the municipal water to commercial fishing operations. All the efforts to increase production in fisheries while improving the life and livelihood of municipal fisherfolk will lead to nothing.),” the groups said.
“Ang komersyal na pangingisda ang umubos ng ating mga isda. Ipinaglaban namin na ipagbawal ang komersyal sa 15-kilometer ng ating karagatan mula sa baybay dahil ito ang pinaka-productive na bahagi ng ating karagatan. Pagkatapos magsakripisyo ng mga municipal na mangingisda upang mapanatiling malusog ang municipal water, bubuksan nila sa komersyal? Hindi ito makatarungan,” said Pablo Rosales, Chairperson of Pangisda Pilipinas.
The groups also called on the National Fisheries and Research Development Institute to actively participate in the ongoing deliberation of the bill by the House of Representatives (HoR) Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries and disclose, for transparency, the National Stocks Assessment in all regions.
The proposed measure, which is authored by Deputy Speaker Pablo John Garcia from Cebu, seeks to expand the possible area of operations of commercial fishing vessels, as defined by law, within municipal waters.
The fishery advocates were also alarmed with the new amendment to the bill during the Technical Working Group meeting of the HoR committee that will allow commercial fishing vessels to operate within an eight point one- (8.1) to fifteen (15) kilometer- area from the shoreline in municipal waters.
The CSOs say they are touching base with other legislative leaders, including members of the House Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries for support in opposing the bill. They are mobilizing stakeholders to contact their respective Congressional representatives to oppose the bill, as well as meet with the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to secure their official position on the said bill.
The Pambansang Mangingisdang Kasapian ng Pakisama or Pamangka, made up of fishers’ associations from Casiguran in Aurora to Zamboanga Sibugay, wrote to House Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries Resources chairman Rep. Leo Rafael M. Cueva, detailing their opposition to the proposed bill.
Bantayan (Cebu province) mayor Arthur Despi expressed alarm on the moves of national leaders to change the delineation of municipal waters and using food security as justification.
For his part, Del Carmen (Surigao del Norte) Vice Mayor Alfred Coro said: “We need to protect our biggest asset, our coastal waters. We should help our small artisanal fisherfolk and their families to also enjoy the bounty that they deserve to have. We are an archipelagic country, and we have more fishers than farmers, we have to give them that voice, that power and it is our mandate to do so.”
Local governments in Romblon, Samar and Surigao del Norte, through resolutions, urged their respective district representatives in Congress to junk House Bill 7853.
Gerard S. Montojo said 17 local government units in the province signed the resolution opposing the proposed legislation. The Alliance of Local Government Units Along Samar Bays and Channels (ALSBACH) sent to Congress a similar resolution signed by its chairman, Motiong Mayor Renato Cabael.
Oceana vice president, Gloria Estenzo Ramos, reiterated that “municipal waters are important areas that are highly productive because they harbor important ecosystems and habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves. These provide shelter and reproduction areas for fishes and other marine organisms. It is important that they are healthy and resilient to the impacts of climate crisis and to the health emergency we all face.”
“We want to know why this proposed bill is still being pursued when a number of CSOs, affected fisherfolk, Congressional constituents, and local governments—including the League of Municipalities and Samar Bay LGUs—have already declared their opposition,” Estenzo-Ramos emphasized.
“Sustainable fisheries supply will be in gross danger, especially now that we are facing this pandemic and aggravated by low protein source from pork as a result of the Asian Swine Fever outbreak. We need to protect our fishery resources now more than ever,” she added.
The CSOs, which include Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP) and the Philippine Earth Justice Center, also pointed out that that the proposed measure will only lead to loss of livelihood of small-scale fisherfolks in terms of food accessibility, housing, education, personal, community security, and even threat to culture. “This could lead to the demise of our municipal fishery sector,” Estenzo-Ramos pointed out.
The CSOs are supporting moves for LGUs to put in place effective monitoring, control, and surveillance systems. They are also urging national government agencies to facilitate the realization of this mechanism to ensure that municipal waters are protected from illegal fishing.
In particular, the CSO want DA-BFAR to fully implement Fisheries Administrative Order 266 that requires vessel monitoring measures and electronic reporting system for all commercial fishing vessels. Despite its signing in 2020, the said order has yet to be fully implemented.
For more information, please contact:
Joyce Sierra, Communications Manager, Oceana