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Fernandez on the Philippine Fisheries Code

Retired UP Professor Pepito R. Fernandez, Sr., was the featured speaker during a lecture entitled, “The Philippine Fisheries Code (R.A. 8550) As Amended by R.A. 10654: Demands Your Concern and Mine” on February 22, 2016, UPV Miagao campus.

The lecture, sponsored and organized by the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (CFOS), was one of the events conducted in line 69th founding anniversary of the UP Presence in Iloilo. It was the first salvo of the Rogelio O. Juliano Distinguished Lecture series, so named after the 2nd UPV Chancellor of UP Visayas and who was also a faculty member.

The former Dean of CFOS said that the majority of the Filipino populace are passive stakeholders in fisheries as consumers of fish and other fisheries products, or users of the aquatic environment for leisure or for navigation and irrigation purposes. “As such, let us give due concern and be actively involved in the proper utilization, management and protection of our valuable fisheries resources and the aquatic environment as a whole. They are precious God given gifts we all ought to be thankful of,” he pointed out.

He also emphasized that we are a rice-fish eating people whose per capita fish consumption is at 38kg. “With this allotment and already at about 101 million population, the country would need about 3.84 million metric tons of fish annually. If we match this figure with the total production of 2.46 million tons, as reflected in the Philippine Fisheries Profile of 2013, the country’s fish deficit would be a staggering 1.38 million tons,” he explained.

He also added that the growth of the population has an impact on the depletion of the fish stock and other fisheries resources in addition to what he called as the “un-moderated greed of many, if not most, fishers,” wherein “all sorts of extraction, violations and destructive practices, are being adopted at the detriment of the resources and ultimately the consumers themselves. In fact, as early as the 1980s, studies have already shown signs of overfishing in most of the country’s productive fishing grounds. To mitigate the alarming situation of the fisheries industry, corrective measures have to be undertaken soonest.”

 The Formulation of the Law

Fernandez recalled that representatives from the different sectors of the industry and other concerned agencies of the government were summoned and mandated to work out and address the multifarious problems thereof. Being the Dean of the College at the time, he represented the academe in the chosen core group. He recalled that from the latter part of 1997 to the early part of 1998, and after marathon sessions and heated deliberations, a comprehensive fisheries bill was produced and submitted to Congress for urgent consideration. The proposal was eventually signed into law by President Fidel V. Ramos on March 23, 1998 as Republic Act No. 8550, known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. Its implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was signed by (the late) DA Secretary Salvador H. Escudero III.

“As is the case with many Philippine Laws, proper and full implementation of the Code has been amiss. For almost 17 years of implementation, practically all sorts of illegal fishing and unlawful means of extraction persisted and simply tolerated. Encroachment of commercial fishers on the domain of the small and subsistence fishermen remain unabated,” he lamented.

He added that the purported guardians of the law such as personnel from respective Fisheries Councils (Municipal, Provincial, Integrated, National), from LGUs, from the different uniformed commands (PNP, Navy, Coast Guard), among others, seem to show little care nor concern. Allegations are afloat that this no-concern often ends with bribery. Lest we forget, similar situation occurs in inland fisheries. Pens, cages and other aquaculture contraptions are operated by the wealthy. These facilities are put up in areas that used to be the fishing grounds of subsistence fishermen.

The Campaign for Urgent Change
In response, Fernandez said that there should be a campaign for urgent change.

“Considering the long prevalence of many unlawful practices in the fisheries industry, “change for the better” has become the battle cry. R.A. 8550 needed urgent amendment to make it at pace with current developments. A broader outlook of the fisheries industry has to be reflected. The sanction provisions have to be modified to provide more stringent penalties and enforced more strictly,” he further explained.

The former Dean of CFOS also explained that in 2013, the change advocates delivered a Roadmap to Recovery to President Benigno S. Aquino III. The proposal was envisioned, among others, 1) to help reverse the deteriorating condition of the country’s marine resources, 2) to safeguard the health of our seas, 3) to secure the livelihood of coastal communities, 4) to have all non-productive FLA-covered fishponds reverted to government for mangrove restoration, and ultimately, 5) to ensure national food security. The Roadmap included recommendations from various stakeholders. It reflected some of the long standing demands of municipal fishers, sustenance industry players, coastal and marine non-government organizations, and scientific group working to end overfishing.

“After lengthy and heated deliberations plus counter protests, Republic Act No. 10654 was evolved. It lapsed into Law (not signed by the President) on February 27, 2015. It is titled The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 as Amended by R.A. 10654: An Act to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. Its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was signed by DA Sec. Proceso J. Alcala on September 22, 2015. The amended Fisheries Code has now more teeth and the needed mechanisms to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) appropriately included,” he pointed out.

The Salient Provisions of the Code
Fernandez pointed out salient provisions of the Code, which he hopes will not be relegated to the archives. “I pushed hard for the inclusion of these provisions,” he pointed out. They are:

  • Sec. 116. in R.A. 8550/Sec. 150. in R.A. 10654. Upgrading of the State Fisheries Schools/Colleges. The DA-BFAR, CHED and TESDA shall jointly formulate standards to upgrade all fisheries schools/colleges. Fisheries schools/colleges that do not meet minimum standards set therefor shall be closed. In fact, in the early ‘80s UP evaluators went around the country assessing/evaluating schools offering tertiary fisheries education. I was one of those evaluators. Most of the schools responded positively and got improved.
  • Sec. 117. in R.A. 8550/Sec. 151. in R.A. 10654. Inclusion of Fisheries Conservation Subjects in School Curriculum.

The former Vice-Chancellor for Administration strongly argued that fisheries conservation subjects should be incorporated in the curricula of elementary and secondary schools in both private and public.

“At this juncture, I will go back to what I said earlier: we are a rice-fish-eating people. Being so, it is but appropriate that our children should be made aware of the presence and importance of the country’s vast aquatic resources. It should be inculcated in the minds of the young that these are God given gifts that should not be abused, but rather properly utilized and protected. Let us all be concerned,” he ended.

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