Big rally set today vs proposed amendments to Fisheries Code PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 08 December 2014 12:13

Some 2,000 workers of fish canning factories and fishing vessels are set to stage today a peaceful rally in protest against a consolidated House and Senate Bill that may force several fishing companies to close down and make many employees jobless.

Jose Suan, national president of the Philippine Integrated Industries Labor Union (PIILU) and vice president of Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), said the rallyists from his labor organization and from other groups will converge at R.T. Lim and will march towards the nearby office of theBureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) where they will stage the rally to protest against House Bill No. 04536 and Senate Bill No. 2414 which seek to amend Republic Act (RA) No. 8550, otherwise known as the Philippines Fisheries Code of 1998.

These House and Senate bills have been consolidated and now pending for signature by President Benigno Aquino III for it to be ratified as law.

In a press brieging, Suan said thousands of workers will lose their jobs once the consolidated biil will be approved by Aquino.

Suan said the peaceful rally will reel off at 8:00 a.m. up to 11:00 a.m.,

He said officials of Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association Inc. (SOPHIL) led by its Executive Vice President Roberto Baylosis and commercial operators homeported in Zamboanga City and officers and members of PIILU and TUCP who strongly support the appeal of Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations, Inc. and the Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association Inc. and commercial operators homeported in Zamboanga City will take part in the rally activity.

“We support the President but because of this that we are not consulted we’re willing to sit-down to bring back this matter to the drawing table and to study deeply (the House Bill 4536) to conduct proper consultation with all the affected stakeholders,” said Suan.

“This (Congressional bill) needs to be reviewed. Sinasabi natin kay Pangulong Aquino na dapat tingnan mabuti ang bill, at magkaroon ng consultation bago niya aprobahan... they should look deeply into the House Bill because this is not good on the part of the stakeholders particularly sa amin mga workers, we will lose our jobs,...not this railroading just to please the E.U. which we are not the exporter we are only selling domestically,” Suan stressed.

“Why comfort the E.U. (European Union) when we are not exporting, particularly our main products here (Zamboanga) are sardines?” Suan asked. reiterating an earlier statement of the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations, Inc.

Suan warned of “serious” consequences, both socially and economically, unless the President vetoes the bill amending the Philippine Fisheries Code, “because thousands of workers will become jobless as all fishing companies operating in Region 9, especially in Zamboang City, will shut down and forced to downsize and retrench workers.

“Our association will be much affected once the bill is passed. Magkakaroon ng downsizing or retrenchment ng more than 30,000 canning workers because walang fishing walang canning,” Suan reitertated.

The commercial fishing industry in the region — Universal Canning Inc., Mega Fishing Corporation, Oceanic Fishing Corporation, YL Fishing Corporation, Nancy Fishing Corporation, AMR Trade and Industrial Development Corporation, Century Fishing Corporation, OLC Fishing Corporation, E&L Fishing Enterprise, Zamboanga GMS Fishing Corporation, NCW Fishing Corporation, Jordan Fishing Corporation, Sky Ocean Fishing Corporation, Lourdes Fishing Corporation, OR Fishing, AM Fishing, S&M Fishing, Althea Fishing Goldenhook Fishing Corporation, Bigsmile Fishing Corporation, Vicory Fishing Corporation, and Walter Fishing Corporation — has more than 30,000 workers,

On December 1, 2014, the heads of the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations, Inc. through SOPHIL Executive Vice President Baylosis made an appeal to President Aquino, saying that the impetus for the lightning-swift passage of the bill is the intense pressure coming from the European Union who threatens to “red card” the fishery products.

“BFAR went overboard to please the E.U. An in fraction punishable by a fine of P10,000 under R.A. 8550 would now be punishable by as much as five million pesos for local fishing and up to ninety millions pesos for large overseas fishing vessels plus an automatic escalation of 10% every three years.

“The objective of this amendment looks noble: to conserve our marine resources. We support that objective but law should not treat the commercial fishers as villains of the lowest level. Illegal fishermen using dynamite and/or cyanide cause irreparable damage, in contrast to the sustainable methods of commercial fishing. Unfortunately, the penalties for destructive fishing activities by illegal fishermen are even lighter than that imposed on commercial fishing operators,” the fishing federations’ appeal said.

Baylosis believes that the amendments to Philippines Fisheries Code of 1998 effectively convert BFAR into a superbody, with the enormous powers of a roving commission.

“BFAR will act as prosecutor, judge and executioner. It can not be issued TRO’s or injunctions. Neither can we file any suit against BFAR for any wrong they commit,” he added.

According to him, the bill was made possible because no meaningful consultation with the most affected sectors of the Philippine fishing industry was conducted.

No less than BFAR Director Asis Perez had admitted and profusely apologized several times before the whole body and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala during last November 29 post legislation meeting for not having consulted the stakeholders which represent the whole commercial fishing sector on the bill, Baylosis continued.

“If the fishing industry is killed by this bill... locally-caught fish will either disappear or will be priced very high. This situation can only be filled by importing fish,” he said.

He asked; “Would anyone eat imported frozen ‘galunggong’, if there were affordable fresh ‘galunggong available?”

Baylosis implored President Aquino to veto the Congressional bill amending the Philippine Fisheries Code and help them start the process of working toegther to draft a new and more responsive one.

“A true Fisheries Code must be equally concerned with both marine resources and food security. The proposed bill only deals with crimes and punishments. No provisions to promote the growth of the fishing sector,” he said.

Member companies of the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations Inc. said over the weekend they are especially concerned about the imposition of harsh penalties for violations, as well as the requirement to invest in monitoring equipment deemed too expensive to procure and maintain.

Under the proposed amendments, the penalties imposed for violation of fisheries law would be raised to the range of P500,000 to P10 million from the current range of P10,000 to P500,000 imposed under the present law.

The violations covered by this penalty scheme ranges from having incomplete permits to breaching of the 15-kilometer distance from the mainland coastline required on commercial vessels.

Vessel owners could also face imprisonment for violations their vessels are involved in. Under the present law, only the vessel captain, chief engineer and master fisherman may be held liable for violations.

The group is also against the requirement for fishing vessels to install Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) devices which may entail expenses of over P240,000 per vessel, plus the monthly maintenance subscription fee of over P20,000 per vessel.

This, the group said, would raise operations cost and ultimately raise fish prices.

The alliance the regulations set under the proposed amendments are “oppressive” and confiscatory.”