AN international marine organization has filed a petition in the High Court against the Department of Agriculture — Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic resources (DA-BFAR) for still not establishing rules on commercial vessels that give unfair competition to simple fisherfolk.
Oceana Philippines filed its petition on Friday at the Supreme Court (SC) to seek an issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus over DA-BFAR for not fulfilling its mandate under the Fisheries code to establish rules and regulations on vessel monitoring measures (VMM).
“Under the Fisheries code, as amended by RA 10654, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), the DA-BFAR are specifically tasked to determine, within one year from the IRR’s effectivity, the appropriate vessel weighing 3.1 to 30 gross tons (GT) and promulgate the corresponding rules and regulations on VMM conditions, terms of reference, confidentiality, mechanics, cost, installation, approved types, and restrictions,” Oceana said in a statement on Friday.
On Oct. 5, DA-BFAR signed the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 260 which states that commercial vessels must have VMM and electronic reporting systems (ERS). The vessels should also submit to government tracking.
Oceana said that the FAO does not “meet the requirement of law” and has only caused confusion over the type of vessels under the FAO.
“It only covers vessels targeting highly migratory and straddling fish stocks. It excludes from its coverage commercial fishing vessels that weight 3.1 to less than 30 gross tons and commonly found in municipal waters,” said Oceana.
Free Legal Assistance Group Chairperson and lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno said DA-BFAR has still not made the VMM rules and regulations although three years have passed since the law was enacted. The livelihood of fisherfolk has been affected because there are no guidelines on delineating municipal waters which has given commercial vessels an unfair advantage over artisanal fisherfolk.
“Dahil sa dami ng commercial fishing vessels na pasok sa municipal waters nawawala na sila ng huli (Because of many commercial fishing vessels entering municipal waters, [fisherfolks] are losing their catch),” Mr. Diokno said.
For her part, Oceana Vice-President Gloria Estenzo Ramos said “Encroachment by commercial fishers in municipal waters had been going on since forever, despite being declared illegal under our laws.”
RA 10654, which amends the “The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998,” was enacted into law back in 2015.
Mr. Diokno, who assisted some fisherfolk during the filing of the petition, said that the sector has been going to the DA-BFAR to tell their concerns for a long time.
“Hanggang ngayon parang ’di pinakikinggan (Until now, [the fisherfolk] are still not being listened to),” he said.
Oceana is also seeking a Temporary Environmental Protection order (TEPO) for DA-BFAR to halt the issuance of new licenses and renewals of commercial fishing vessels that weigh 3.1-30 GT during the pendency of the case. — Gillian M. Cortez