Group slams fisheries law: We are 16 years a slave

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Group slams fisheries law: We are 16 years a slave

SPECIAL REPORT

In its updated paper entitled 16 years of Fisheries Code, Filipino Fisherfolk Still Fish in Troubled Waters, 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.

By GERRY ALBERT CORPUZ
Bulatlat.com [1]

Manila – Every marginalized fisherman in this country has been suffering 16 years of intense slavery courtesy of the 16-year old Fisheries Code of 1998.

This was how the fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) assessed Republic Act No. 8550 also known as the Philippine Fisheries Law of 1998. It is asserting that amendments to the 16-year old Fisheries Law will not eradicate across-the-nation poverty, hunger and dispossession among the ranks of 1.3 million poor fishermen all over the country.

“Every fisherman in this country is 16 years a slave under the Fisheries Code of 1998. The move to check the excesses and infirmities of the law by selective amendments will not work. The best thing for Congress is to repeal this 16 year-old fisheries law,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France in a statement. The fisherfolk leader issued the call after it learned last week that the Senate will soon conduct public hearings on the proposed amendments to the Fisheries Code of 1998.

“Let us call a spade a spade. The Fisheries Code of 1998, from the very beginning, is a shotgun piece of legislation. It is designed to make our fisherfolk poorer thus, the poorest sector in the country is still the fisherfolk sector and poverty is very much extreme in fishing villages all over the country,” added France.

An updated impact assessment conducted by the non-government environmental group Center for Environmental Concern (CEC Philippines), in partnership with the regional and local chapters of Pamalakaya, validated a previous assessment that the country’s Fisheries law passed in 1998 failed to uplift the lives of the more than nine million people directly and indirectly dependent on fishing for their livelihood.

In its updated paper entitled 16 years of Fisheries Code, Filipino Fisherfolk Still Fish in Troubled Waters, 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, the 2006, 2009 and 2010 surveys conducted by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NCSB) revealed that the fisherfolk sector has the highest poverty incidence in the country. The NSCB revealed that the fisherfolk, farmers and 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, the fisherfolk sector posted the highest increase in poverty incidence, which is 22.7 percent, compared with farmers 11.7 percent, senior citizens with 11.3 percent, and urban poor with 8.5 percent, a glaring proof that the 16-year old fisheries law has never been a social justice act of legislation.

The NSCB report also revealed that the poorest fishermen in the country are found in the Caraga region, in the Autonomous Region of 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 that the least poor fishermen are found in Regions III, II and the National Capital Region.

Still backward industry

The CEC Philippines and Pamalakaya joint assessment paper concluded that at the outset, Republic Act 8550 had no intention of developing 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: five to 15 horsepower motorized boats or even paddled boats, and backward methods such as hook and line fishing, manually-deployed nets, among others. According to the impact assessment research, a large section of the population of fisherfolk or about 637,000 fishermen still use paddle boats, and about three million more merely offer their labor power to relatively bigger fishing boats for a share in the net profits. The country has 313,000 registered individually-owned municipal fishing boats.

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

The CEC-Pamalakaya research said there are about 300,000 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 that fish workers all over the country still receive an average daily pay between P150 to P180 ($3.30 to $4) way below the minimum wage set by regional wage boards for agricultural and non-agricultural workers in rural Philippines.

Pamalakaya and CEC Philippines asserted further that the modernization of local fisheries sector merely exists in the document of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for corruption and funding purposes. Up to now, there is no clear audit report on the P100 million ($2.22 million) fund appropriated annually for municipal fisherfolk under the Municipal Fisheries Grant Fund.

Biased for big, commercial fishers?

On the other hand, the expressed bias of the law is largely seen in the allocation of P250 million ($5.55 million) for commercial fishing vessels development and P50 million minimum ($1.11 million) 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 kind 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 capital set up by the state is earmarked for those engaged in commercial fishing and capital intensive aquaculture activities to enable the government to produce the needed dollars from exports 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,” it added. ??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 chairperson of the Haligi ng Batanguenong Anakdagat (Habagat) 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 the 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, 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 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. (http://bulatlat.com)

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