By CLEMENTE BAUTISTA
Recently, Republic Act 10654 or the Amended Philippine Fisheries Code was passed, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was completed only this September. Behind the policy reform are mostly big commercial fishers, government officials, and with few representatives from non-government organizations like Greenpeace and some fisherfolk organizations.
In the end, the policy’s crafters are unanimous in trumpeting that the amended law and its IRR will lead to the sustainable management of our fishery and other marine resources, while protecting the interest of small fisher folks in the country.
Because of the amended code, its proponents proudly say, the European Union has lifted the ‘yellow card’ sanction it imposed on the Philippines. This means the large commercial fishers and aquaculture corporations are no longer banned from exporting our tunas, groupers, shrimps and other marine products to Europe, supposedly because the code now fits the European Union standards in curbing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices.
Is this truly the case? A closer look at the Amended Fisheries Code easily uncovers that it has unilaterally imposed expensive and onerous regulations on the domestic-oriented small and medium fishing industry, exorbitantly increased the penalties for violations of the law, and strengthened the police power of fishery-related agencies at the national and local levels. This, they claim, is our new and improved fisheries law.
Let’s call a spade a spade, though some so-called environmental advocates and NGO workers might be allergic to this: the Amended Fisheries Code is a tool to promote the imperialist globalization of the local fishing industry, wherein fisheries and marine products should primarily cater to the needs of the foreign markets such as Europe, Japan and the United States.
Some PHP42.37 billion worth of fisheries products were exported abroad mainly to United States, Japan and European Union in 2012, which comprises 18 percent of our total fish production of PHP237.71 billion. Most of these exporters are the big commercial fishers and aquaculture companies. The new code wants more of these.
The Amended Fisheries Code, much like its predecessor RA 8550 or the Fisheries Code of 1998, is still a policy on how to perpetuate the existing export-oriented, import-dependent and private-controlled fishing industry.
RA 8550 was passed during the height of impositions of globalization policies in the Philippines to further liberalize, privatize and deregulate the different economic sectors and industries in the country. Its contemporary laws are the Mining Act of 1995 which liberalizes the mining industry; Oil Deregulation Law of 1998 which prohibits the government from interfering in the pricing, export and import of oil products, and deregulating the industry; and the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 which privatized power public utilities in the power industry. These are the policy impositions of international financial institutions like World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and their big corporate transnational companies to open up our economy and natural resources to foreign control and plunder.
A policy of plunder in PH seas
Under the Amended Fisheries Code, private companies are allowed to own coastal lands and waters up to 50 years for commercial fishing or aquaculture. No wonder, then, that aquaculture now supplies more than 50% of our marine and fishery products. Aquaculture is the primary reason in the privatization and commercialization of important coastal habitats such as magroves, mudflats, coral reefs, and seagrass meadows, as well as lake areas and now marine areas. A vivid example is the thousands of private fish cages in Laguna and Taal Lakes.
In the Philippines, most of our mangrove forest loss is due to the conversion of coasts into aquaculture production of commercial fish and other seafood. Scientists say that the fast destruction of coastal habitats, particularly of mangrove areas, leads to the rapid decline in fish productivity. According to the Coastal Resources Management Project in 1998, there is an estimated reduction of 670 kilograms in fish catch for every hectare of mangrove forest cleared.
The amended law still promotes Joint Venture Agreements between local and foreign commercial fishing companies. Indeed, most of the biggest commercial fishing and aquaculture companies in the country either have ventures with foreign interests or are export-oriented, such as the Frabelle Fishing Corp. and the RBL Fishing Corp.
Let us cite some facts: In 1998, municipal fishery production was 891.1 million metric tons or MMT (31.5 percent), while commercial fishing production was 940.5 MMT (33.2 percent) and aquaculture production was 997.8 MMT (35.3 percent). In 2013 it was 1264.4 MMT (26.9 percent), 1067.6 MMT (22.7 percent) and 2,373.4 MMT (50.4 percent) respectively.
This shows how the law has pushed our fisheries towards aquaculture production, resulting into the declining productivity in the municipal and commercial fisheries sectors. This trend is both a factor and an end result of the continuing degradation of freshwater and ecosystems, and overfishing and in the country.
The amended code in fact still allows the entry of giant commercial fishing vessels to within 10.1 to 15 kilometers of municipal waters, as long the commercial fishers satisfy the sea depth of more than 7 fathoms and do not use ‘active fishing gear.’ With this provision, the advocates of the amended law remain deadly silent.
The above points clearly expose the chicaneries of the foreign and giant commercial fishers, and how the amended fisheries code will completely allow the wholesale entry of commercial fishing vessels to the municipal waters of small-fisher folks. The amended law will not stop the decline in the productivity of our fisheries and the downtrend in the fishing industry.
A common apologist line I recently heard said that this law will surely address overfishing and lead to the ocean’s recovery. A lame joke, if I ever heard one. The fisheries code has been in implementation for 17 years already. Increasing restrictions, penalties, and police powers will not change the essence of this law in selling out our marine and fisheries resources to private and foreign hands.
Only fools and apologists for globalization believe that the restriction and penalties will change the nature of the inefficient, bureaucratic fishery agencies and corrupt local government officials. The amended law is even more conducive for kickbacks and grease money for the corrupt local government and BFAR officials.
So tell me again: will the Amended Fisheries Code resolve the depleted and degraded state of our fisheries and marine ecosystems?