“The fisherfolk is already being battered by numerous issues besetting the fishing sector; namely, the fish catch depletion due to corporate plunder of marine resources, the anti-fisherfolk law that allows commercial fishing fleets to exploit municipal waters, and the government’s lack of support to our sector?”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — Fisherfolk remain to be one of the poorest sectors in the Philippines, with a poverty incidence of 34 percent, as recorded by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2017.
Their plight, however, remains unheeded as they commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Philippine Fisheries Code, the “bane” of their livelihood.
In order to register their indignation, the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) joined the national day of protest for rights, freedom, and democracy on February 23.
“Fisherfolk issues are related to national issues besetting the people such as the attacks of neoliberal policies on socio-economic rights, state fascism, and oppression,” PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas chairperson Fernando Hicap said.
20 years (and counting) of an oppressive legislation
A day before the mobilization, three fisherfolk from Navotas were fired at by state agents after being alleged to be ‘smugglers’. They were forced to pay a penalty in the amount of P2,500 ($48), without any receipt given in exchange.
This is how the Philippine Fisheries Code has empowered the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Marines, and officials of local government units to impose strict guidelines and hefty fees for registering boats of fisherfolk.
In fact, some are penalized amounts up to P 100,000 ($1,900) — a death sentence on the livelihood of a member of one of the poorest sectors in the country.
READ: Debunking the Fisheries Code: Small fishers lament heavy fines, loss of livelihood
“Every small fisherfolk and fish workers in the country are considered as modern-day slaves courtesy of the 20 year-old Fisheries Code that is under the framework of foreign-dictated neoliberal policies and was designed to enslave the already impoverished sector in the country. Even its amendments did not eradicate the across-the-nation hunger and poverty experienced by the fishing sector,” Hicap said.
Instead of protecting the interests of the fisherfolk, the Amended Fisheries Code allows private companies to control coastal lands and waters for up to 50 years for commercial fishing or aquaculture. This has led not only to a reduction of communal fishing waters in the Philippines but also to the privatization of these areas. With various reclamation projects also being conducted in former fishing areas like Manila Bay, the fisherfolk are forced out of their livelihood and their homes.
“Commercial fishing fleets weighing 3 gross tons and above continue to exploit the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters that have been allotted to the municipal fisherfolk. While the corporate take-over and privatization of fishing waters through aquaculture structures and eco-tourism zones have intensified,” Hicap explained.
READ: In the amended Fisheries Code, big foreign fishers rule the seas
More burden for the fisherfolk
Aside from the Philippine Fisheries Code, the fisherfolk also have to face the effects of national policies and laws such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) and the impending charter change.
Because of the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities and oil products, there has also been an increase in fishing production costs. According to PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas, fisherfolk had to cut their trips from the regular 6-8 hours to 4-6 hours in order to save up because of the increased oil prices due to TRAIN.
“The fisherfolk is already being battered by numerous issues besetting the fishing sector; namely, the fish catch depletion due to corporate plunder of marine resources, the anti-fisherfolk law that allows commercial fishing fleets to exploit municipal waters, and the government’s lack of support to our sector. Now the skyrocketing prices of oil products under the new tax-reform law will exacerbate the miserable condition of the country’s poorest of the poor,” Hicap said.
The impending charter change also poses a threat to the sector, as it allows fishing waters and coastal areas to be sold to foreign businesses.
Among the proposed amendments to the Constitution is the removal of the provision that directs the State to protect the rights of subsistence fishermen and their right to offshore fishing against ‘foreign intrusion’. According to the progressive fisherfolk group, this legalizes the entry of foreign-flagged commercial fishing fleets, leading to the exploitation of municipal waters, and thus, leaving nothing to small fisherfolk.
“Today, we join thousands of Filipino youth and patriotic sectors in a National Day of Protest not only to demand the scrapping of the Fisheries Code but also to call for the ouster of Rodrigo Duterte, who acts as the anti-people president and chief executive of all these anti-people policies that are detrimental to the Filipino people,” Hicap said.
The fisherfolk also joined the mobilization on February 24 to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the EDSA uprising, where they declared their strong opposition against charter change and the “rising fascist dictatorship” of the Duterte regime.