Study reveals 13 year-old Philippine fisheries law failed to deliver social justice

Published by rudy Date posted on May 18, 2011

Philippine fish invasion

MANILA, Philippines -When the law was passed in 1998 by Philippine Congress, then the administration of former military general President Fidel V. RamosFidel V. Ramos promised the fisherfolk that social justice would soon reign in troubled waters.

But the promise, as expected in traditional politics was broken.

An impact assessment conducted by the non-government environmental group Center for Environmental Concern (CEC Philippines) in partnership with the regional and local chapters of the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) revealed that the country’s central law passed in 1998 failed to uplift the lives of more than 9 million population directly and indirectly dependent to fishing.

In their paper entitled “13 years of Fisheries Code, Filipino Fisherfolk Still Fish in Troubled Waters, CEC Philippines and Pamalakaya asserted that Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Law of 1998 failed to raise the standard of living of small fisherfolk and was very dismal in protecting marine and inland environment from destruction by corporate interests.

According to Pamalakaya and CEC Philippines, in 2006, a study conducted by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NCSB) found out the fisherfolk sector has the highest poverty incidence in the country. The NSCB revealed the fisherfolk; the farmers and the children comprised the poorest sectors across-the-country with poverty incidence of 49.9 percent, 44 percent and 40.8 percent respectively.

In the same study, 2006, the fisherfolk sector posted the highest increase in poverty incidence, which is 22.7 percent, compared with farmers with 11.7 percent, senior citizens with 11.3 percent, and urban poor with 8.5 percent, a glaring proof that the 12-year old fisheries law was never been a social justice act of legislation.

The NSCB 2006 report also revealed the poorest fishermen in the country are found in Caraga region, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in Region V, or the Bicol region, which comprises the provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay,Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate. The same study bared the least poor fishermen are found in Regions III, II and the National Capital Region.

The CEC Philippines and Pamalakaya joint assessment paper concluded that at the outset, Republic Act 8550 has no intention to develop the backward fisheries sector. It maintained the old, traditional, low technology, small scale and Jurassic mode of fishing.

Many of the country’s small scale fishermen still use backward fishing gears such as 5 horsepower to 15 horse power motorized boats, paddled boats, hook and line, nets and other relatively backward means.

According to the impact assessment research, a large section of the population of fisher people or about 637,000 fishermen still use paddle for fish capture, and about three million more merely offer their labor power for a share on net profit to lower middle fishermen, middle fishermen and upper middle fishermen. The country has 313,000 registered municipal fishing boats individually owned by same number of people.

The impact assessment estimates that a significant number of fish workers are also compelled to join small, medium and large-scale commercial fishing vessels on mainly commission basis, while a significant number of them are also receiving wages below the minimum wage prescribed regional wage boards.

The CEC-Pamalakaya research says there were about 300,000 of fish workers employed in commercial fishing and about 100,000 employed as seasonal workers in aquaculture farms all over the country.

Previous research conducted by Pamalakaya revealed fish workers all over the country still receive an average daily pay between P 150 to P 180 way below compared to that minimum wage set by regional wage boards for agricultural and non-agricultural workers in rural Philippines.

Pamalakaya and CEC Philippines asserted further the the modernization of local fisheries sector merely exists in the document of Department of Agriculture (DA) for corruption and funding purposes. Up to now, there is no clear audit report on the P 100 million fund yearly appropriated for municipal fisherfolk under the Municipal Fisheries Grant Fund.

On the other hand, the expressed bias of the law is largely seen in the allocations of P 250 million for commercial fishing vessels development and P 50 million minimum allocation for aquaculture investment.

They said practically almost all fishing gears and needs are still obtained from foreign sources, but are controlled by domestic landlords who have diverted parts of their capital and resources to fishery production and other fish-related activities.

Pamalakaya and CEC Philippines said the government merely introduced some kinds of mechanization and improvement of fishing boats and gears, but such institutional support are designed to increase production of commercial fisheries and aquaculture fisheries sectors for exports.

“Fishing capitals set up by the state are earmarked for those engaged in commercial fishing and capital intensive aquaculture activities to enable the government to produce the needed dollars from exportation of fishery and other water based products.

Small fisherfolk don’t have access to these state funds, unless they have the competence according to standards set by lending groups and they can assure the government, and the domestic banks and lending institutions that they can pay at any given time and meet the conditions imposed by public and private financial groups,” they added.

Ground for privatization of communal fishing waters

By orientation, by design and by character, the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 is nothing but a law on privatization that aims to destroy the communal character and way of life in fishing. This was vividly seen and experienced by small fisherfolk over the last 13 years where municipal fishing waters are left at the mercy of national government and local government units in partnership with private interests.

In Calatagan, Batangas, the Haligi ng Batanguenong Anakdagat (Habagat), the provincial chapter of Pamalakaya, the group’s chairperson Isabelo Alicaya, a fisherman since 1977 told participants to the national consultation that the entire fishing town was declared a fish sanctuary by the local government unit.

The declaration of fishing areas as fish sanctuaries on the other hand paved way for the mushrooming of beach resorts and other eco-tourism activities. The local government units through the Foreshore Lease Agreement (FLA) had allowed beach resort operators to lease coastal shores and beaches for 25 years and renewable for another 25 years.

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 bullets and eventually died on the spot 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, mariculture ponds and other activities pertaining to culturing of fish and other marine products. During the consultation, the chapters of Pamalakaya in Masbate andEastern Visayas region narrated the growing offensive 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 to protect national interest, people’s sovereignty and environment from the campaign of 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 main pier. In Cebu, particularly in the municipal waters off Camotes Island, there are mariculture areas disguised as fish sanctuaries. In Eastern Visayas, mariculture activities are promoted inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing water and its main come on is the rent-to-own fish cage which is capital intensive in nature.

Giant kill for commercial fishing giants

The ever aggressive and increasing activity of commercial fishing vessels inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing waters is one of negative impacts of the 12-year old on local fisheries.

During the Pamalakaya-CEC consultation, fishermen from 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.

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, siphoning 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 encounter 10 big commercial fishing boats inside the 15-kilometer municipal fishing area. Operators of commercial fishing vessels argued they are allowed to fish within the 10.1 kilometer to 15 kilometer under the 7-fathom rule as prescribed in the fisheries code. But there were reports these commercial fishing giants went beyond the 10.1 limit insisting the 7 fathom-deep rule is decisive and legalizes their aggressive entry in the entire 15-km municipal fishing ground.

In La Union, around 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 ordinance, 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 zoning ordinance will be fined ranging from P 1,500 per offense to P 60,000 per offense, indeed, 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 to small fisherfolk. The situation resulting from imposition of zoning ordinance 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 and catch fish, there is no assurance the small fishermen can get enough fish, go break even or earn big because of the high cost of fuel that eats up 80 percent of production cost.

In most cases, income still ranged at an average of P 50 to P 150 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. Yearly, fisherfolk registered their fishing boats and gears to the municipal government and are charged with corresponding fees. The fishermen are also charged with yearly fees, aside from the boats and gears they use for fishing. 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 13-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 or had become a socio-economic monster to the Filipino public. # –Gerry Albert Corpuz and Billy Javier Reyes,

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