Oceana, fisherfolk groups oppose BFAR and the commercial fishing sector’s moves to change fisheries law
Press Release Date: June 3, 2023
Fisherfolk groups and Oceana call for better transparency in the efforts of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the commercial fishing sector to introduce major amendments to the Philippine Fisheries Code as they also opposed the lack of consultation with the broad representation of all sectors, including municipal fisherfolk across the country.
“Gusto kong mag-react para mag clarify pero di ako pinagsalita, halatang niluto na po nila. Parang sinasabi nila na para sa ating mga municipal na mangingisda pero ito pala ay para sa kanila. Paulit-ulit nilang sinasabi na wala tayong kakayahan kasi fisherfolks lang tayo. Gusto nilang mag-compromise tayo sa kanilang mga kagustuhan kahit hindi kumpleto ang mga impormasyong ibinibigay sa atin tungkol sa mga gusto nilang palitan sa batas,” recounted Martha Cadano, fisherfolk leader from Region VIII (Northern Samar), who attended the consultation convened by BFAR in Manila recently.
In a position paper sent by fisherfolk leaders from different parts of the country and Oceana to the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Domingo Panganiban, DA Undersecretary for Fisheries Drusila Bayate, and BFAR Director Atty. Demosthenes Escoto, the groups opposed the unwarranted haste and underhanded process of presenting the proposed amendments to the Amended Fisheries Code or Republic Act 10654.
The signatories of the statement express their “vehement objection concerning the ongoing consultations conducted in the Swiss Belhotel Blulane, Manila (May 15-17, 2023) to amend the Amended Fisheries Code of the Philippines. We believe that there is no urgent need for drastic amendments; rather, it is more essential to implement the law. We must also evaluate the implementation status of the existing law at the very least. Without this evaluation, it becomes challenging to make an informed decision on whether legislative solutions are indeed necessary, or if legislation is the appropriate solution to address the existing problems in our fisheries.”
According to Oceana Acting Vice President and Legal and Policy Director, Atty. Rose Liza Eisma Osorio, BFAR did not even undertake any review to assess the effectiveness, relevance, and impact of existing provisions of the Amended Fisheries Code to justify the proposed amendments.
“It is more disconcerting to know that the direction of the changes that BFAR and the commercial fishing sector are pushing is to allow the unrestricted access of commercial fishing sector to catch fish within municipal waters, through an amendment to Section 18. Such a proposition blatantly contradicts the 1987 Constitution, which mandates the protection of the rights of subsistence fishermen to the preferential right to the use of local marine and fishing resources,” explained Osorio.
The statement of the group further noted that the full implementation of the existing Fisheries Code is needed, not an amendment.
Mechanisms such as the Fisheries Management Area system are already in place under the existing RA 10654 to implement science-based policies to sustainably manage our country’s fisheries in a decentralized and transparent governance that need to be fully implemented. The groups said the proposed changes contradict these overarching goals of the law.
Fisheries Administrative Order No. 266 was issued under the leadership of Agriculutre Secretary William Dar on October 12, 2020 that serves as rules and guidelines in the implementation of Vessel Monitoring Measure (VMM), in accordance with Section 14 of the Fisheries Code, as amended. The VMM provides effective monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms to enhance the tracking of fishing vessels and deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
Osorio said BFAR has not fully implemented these mechanisms that are still responsive to changing circumstances, and yet, they are already pushing for an amendment of the law.
“Kami ay nababahala na hindi inimbitahan ng BFAR sa sinasabi nilang konsultasyon ang mga kinatawan ng pinakamalawak at pambansang mga organisasyon ng municipal na mangingisda. Maging ang National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) na katuwang ng pamahalaan sa pagpapaunlad at pagpapatupad ng patakaran. Bakit hindi kami kinonsulta? Isang mahalagang bahagi ng demokratikong pamamahala ang pampublikong konsultasyon na pinahihintulutan ng iba’t ibang batas at alituntunin,” said Ruperto Aleroza, NAPC Vice Chair for the Basic Sector.
The groups copied Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Atty. Benhur Abalos with their position paper, asserting that science and technical experts must be invited; technical maps must be presented; and proper agencies including the DILG must be invited to the consultations.
According to Oceana and the fisherfolk representatives who attended the consultations, the discussions are leaning to redefine the boundaries of municipal waters, a matter that carries substantial implications on the delineation and jurisdiction of local government units, and yet the offices and agencies directly involved in this subject are not adequately represented and some are not represented at all.
The groups said that the BFAR has not furnished them with complete records, minutes of the meeting, and documents containing the full copy of the proposed amendments, yet they were asked to submit their position paper within a limited time (24 hours). That is the reason they issued this statement to demand full disclosure of the records and allow all relevant stakeholders to peruse these records in order to come up with an informed position. They learned that the BFAR and the commercial fishing industry plan to submit the amendments before the end of the 1st regular session of the 19th Congress on June 2, 2023.
Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. Since 2014, Oceana has been working closely with national and local government agencies, civil society, fisherfolk and other stakeholders to restore abundance of Philippine fisheries and marine resources.
For More Information:
Joyce Sierra, Communications Manager, Oceana
Mobile: 09178214430 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org