Group slams fisheries law: We are 16 years a slave

These sanctuaries became main attractions of beach resorts and fisherfolk are banned from getting near these fish sanctuaries. According to Pamalakaya leaders and organizers in Cebu, Bohol and Masbate, there were cases where fisherfolk were strafed, harassed with guns or killed when they get close to these fish sanctuaries declared by local government units and “protected” by eco-tourism operators and agents.

The privatization of municipal fishing waters is also done through issuance of Fishpond Lease Agreement (FLA) where the local government allows private interests to occupy municipal fishing waters that include public domains for 25 years and also renewable for another 25 years.

Private groups that include big fish lords are able to construct fishponds, fish pens, marine culture ponds and other activities pertaining to the culture of fish and other marine products. During the consultation, the chapters of Pamalakaya in Masbate and Eastern Visayas region talked about the intensification of aquaculture activities in their respective areas.

RA 8550 also failed to stop the onslaught of land grabbing and corporate takeover of coastal areas by big business interests. The experience of small fisherfolk in Aurora province courtesy of APECO, the widespread offshore mining in Visayas region and Palawan, the round-the-clock magnetite mining in Cagayan export processing zone and Lingayen Gulf areas to mention a few, manifest the “rottenness and bankruptcy” of the law in protecting the nation’s interest, people’s sovereignty and the environment from corporate landgrabbing and exploitation of marine and inland resources.

In Masbate, a concessionaire was able to secure 250 hectares of fish cages, enough to encircle the province’s main pier. In Cebu, particularly in the municipal waters off Camotes Island, there are marine culture areas disguised as fish sanctuaries. In Eastern Visayas, marine culture activities are promoted inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters and its main come-on is rent-to-own fish cages.

The ever aggressive and increasing activity of commercial fishing vessels inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters is one negative impact on local fisheries.

During the Pamalakaya-CEC consultation, fishermen from the organization Habagat in Batangas narrated how commercial fishing vessels continue to plunder the municipal fishing waters in Nasugbu, Lian, Calatagan and other fishing towns of the province.

Allowing intrusion of big commercial fishing vessels

Habagat reported the regular presence of 20 commercial fishing vessels in the fishing district of Batangas where they stayed for three successive days. These fishing vessels are capable of harvesting 100 tons of fish per fishing operation, harvesting whatever is reserved for small fishermen within the 15- kilometer municipal fishing water.

In Ticao town in Masbate, Pamalakaya-Masbate said fisherfolk are used to seeing 10 big commercial fishing boats inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing area. Operators of commercial fishing vessels argued that they are allowed to fish within the 10.1 kilometer to 15 kilometer under the seven-fathom rule as prescribed in the fisheries code. But there were reports that these commercial fishing giants went beyond the 10.1 limit.

In La Union, about 37 commercial fishing vessels frequent the municipal fishing towns of the province, and only 10 of them were allowed to fish according to officials of provincial and local government units. Sightings of aggressive commercial fishing are also reported in most of the municipal fishing towns in Leyte and Samar.

Regime of zoning ordinance, exorbitant fees and regressive taxations

The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 is notorious for imposing zoning ordinances, exorbitant fees and regressive taxation. Under RA 8550, local government units are empowered to impose zoning ordinances under the guise of environmental protection and regeneration of marine resources. Violators of the zoning ordinance will be fined ranging from P1,500 ($33) per offense to P60,000 ($1,333) per offense. It has become a money making scheme for national and local government units.

While allowing commercial fishing giants to harvest and enjoy the bounty of marine products even inside the 15-kilometer municipal area, LGUs had restricted and limited fishing access and activities of small fisherfolk. The situation resulting from the imposition of zoning ordinances and effective fishing ban forced the small fisherfolk to fish in nearby coastal towns.

The effect is disastrous. Small fisherfolk are forced to fish for more fishing hours because they have to go farther, spend more money to enhance the capability of their boats and gears, spend more money for gasoline, oil and food and face the risk of being arrested by local authorities of other towns, which imposed the same zoning ordinance against “foreign intruders”.

Even if they go farther to catch fish, there is no assurance that small fishermen can get enough fish to cover their expenses because of the high cost of fuel that eats up to 80 percent of production costs.

In most cases, their income still ranges from an average of P50 to P150 ($1.11 to $3.33) per day as in the case of small fishermen in the regions of Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Far South Mindanao and Central Visayas, Panay Island and Northern Luzon provinces.

Different fees are also collected from small fisherfolk by local government units. Fisherfolk register their fishing boats and gears to the municipal government annually and are charged with corresponding fees. There are cases where small fisherfolk are asked to pay fees for identification cards issued by the municipal government and the local barangay.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Congress has yet to conduct an impact assessment and performance evaluation of the 16-year old Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. Under the 1987 Constitution and existing jurisprudence on the legislative functions of Congress, the legislative branch is constitutionally bound to review any enacted law every five years to determine if such product of legislation had served the best interest of or had become a socio-economic monster to the Filipino public. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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