Protection of PHL seas needed to sustain fisheries, NGOs say
Legal reforms and community action have led to modest gains in saving marine habitats from destruction, but much more needs to be done to ensure the viability of fisheries in the future, according to civil society leaders who attended the National Symposi
Press Release Date: November 10, 2014
Location: Manila, Philippines
The two-day symposium served as the launching activity of the Philippine office of Oceana, the largest international organization focused exclusively on restoring the world’s oceans. It gathered stakeholders from the government, civil society, and business to discuss reform proposals and share best practices in sustaining fisheries.
Dennis Calvan, executive director of NGOs for Fisheries Reform, cited the gains in the cancellation of foreshore lease agreements and providing land tenure security for fishing households.
However, he noted that the government has yet to fully implement major sections of the Fisheries Code of 1998, such as funding support and clear guidelines for fishers’ settlements.
Calvan also cautioned against greater attention given to the tourism industry in the rehabilitation of foreshore areas ravaged by super typhoon Haiyan last year, saying the livelihood of affected fishers needs to be prioritized as well.
Vince Cinches of Greenpeace-Southeast Asia presented a “Roadmap to Recovery of Philippine Oceans” which aims to manage fishing capacity, improve the condition of critical ecosystems, benefit fishers, and strengthen government efforts.
Fishing will no longer be viable in the next 10 to 20 years in Philippine seas at the current rate of destructive practices, but the government can still reverse this trend through recovery efforts, Cinches said.
He called on President Benigno Aquino III to convene an Oceans Crisis Team to ensure that the protection, rehabilitation, and conservation of Philippine seas is made a national priority.
Justino Dacillo, a provincial fisherfolk representative, talked about his group’s efforts in enforcing fisheries laws in the province of Quezon. He said some of the outcomes included a reduction in the incidence of illegal fishing, increased participation in BFAR planning, more effective checks & balances in fisheries development, and better inter-municipality cooperation in northern Lamon Bay.
Senior Superintendent Romulo Esteban from the Philippine National Police in Region 5 reported on the effectiveness of their campaign that has won them awards. This year, their collaboration efforts with other sectors resulted in 272 operations conducted and 1,781 people arrested in the Bicol region in the first nine months alone, which represents a huge increase from their previous year’s record.
Angelique Songco, Park Superintendent of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan, shared the good news that no incidents of illegal fishing have been recorded in the marine protected area since 2012. From the cases filed in previous years, 34% of violators have been convicted, 57% have been arraigned or are awaiting trial, while 3% were acquitted.
“Protecting natural resources depends on good governance. Good governance depends on rule of law. Rule of law depends on compliance,” Songco said.
Atty. Gerthie Mayo Anda, Executive Director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center, spoke about conflict resolution in fisheries management. Among the types of conflict they have encountered are access to fishing grounds, law enforcement, and the rights of fishers as well as other resource users.
Among their initiatives are information and education campaigns, consensus building, resource management, municipal fisheries ordinances, creation of law enforcement groups, and the development of local adjudication systems.
Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines, said the country has a “very progressive legal system for the protection of the environment and the species and their habitats,” citing the creation of environmental courts and the rules of procedure from the Supreme Court for environmental cases as examples.
However, she noted that weak enforcement of laws and incoherent polices posed major challenges for conservationists.
She cited the example of Tañon Strait, one of the country’s richest fishing grounds covering the provinces of Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Negros Occidental. Although it is a high priority conservation area for reef fishes, the government allowed offshore drilling for oil in 2007.
With 10 of the country’s 13 fishing grounds overfished, and fishers classified as the poorest sector in society, Ramos said citizen engagement and progressive leaders hold the key to the promotion of sustainable fishing in the Philippines.
“Laws, rulings and rules remain empty if not implemented by the government and environmental rights are not asserted by the people,” Ramos concluded.