Sunday, October 26, 2014

Drilon: Senate to pass bill to prevent ban on PHL marine products

MANILA-In order to avert a possible ban by the European Union on Philippine marine and fisheries products, the Senate will approve on third reading tomorrow Monday a bill that will give more teeth to the country’s marine and fisheries laws and ensure our compliance with international conventions and standards.

Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said that Senate Bill No. 2414, which amends the Fisheries Code, must be enacted into law by the yearend in order to help advance the country’s fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Drilon said that the country’s present laws, rules and regulations lack sufficient disincentives and sanctions against IUU fishing and is among the major issues raised by the European Union through its Directorate-General Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG-MARE) on its 2012 audit report on the Philippines.

Drilon added that we only have until the end of the year to address the “yellow tag” warning issued by the EU.

“Failure to act on the yellow tag and the observations made by the EU on its 2012 audit report on the Philippines may result in the blacklisting of all Philippine marine and fisheries products in the European Union market,” said Drilon.

“We must pass our amendments to the Fisheries Code before the EU puts us under ‘red flag’ which would categorize us as a non-cooperating country by failing to discharge our commitment to eliminate IUU fishing,” explained Drilon.

He said the ban will affect the fishing industry and the country’s economic growth.

“We need to strengthen our laws in order to preserve our marine and aquatic resources and protect the livelihood of our fisher folks,” Drilon stressed, noting that a 2012 study by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) shows that the local fishing industry represents 2.1% of the nation’s entire gross domestic product (GDP).

The Senate leader lauded Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, for her prompt action on the measure that will increase fines and provide a wide array of administrative penalties against IUU fishing. “The quick action taken by Sen. Villar and the Committee on Agriculture on SBN 2414 would strengthen our legal and regulatory framework against IUU fishing and would help ensure our compliance with international conventions for the conservation and management of living marine resources,” Drilon stressed.

Drilon said that intensified punitive actions against serious violations on Philippine aquatic resources will ensure that “sanctions are dissuasive and have deterrent effect.”

Under the proposed measure, a hefty fine of P2.5 million to P10 million, or twice the value of the catch, whichever is higher, will be imposed on large-scale commercial IUU fishing. For medium-scale and small-scale commercial IUU fishing, the fines will range from P250 thousand to P2 million and P50 thousand to P200 thousand, respectively.

The existing Philippine Fisheries Code only imposes fines ranging from P100 thousand to P500 thousand.

The Senate leader said that the SBN 2414 will also bolster government efforts to safeguard the local fishing industry from encroachment by foreign elements, especially intrusions by foreign poachers preying on local waters and fish supply.

“The bill will also protect local fishers from the unlawful competition presented by the wanton entry of foreign poachers who take advantage of our abundant aquatic resources,” Drilon  said, noting  the "alarming recurrence" of high-profile illegal fishing committed by fishermen from neighboring countries within the recent years.

In June of 2014, 12 Vietnamese nationals were sentenced by a Philippine court for illegal fishing near Palawan, while in 2011, 122 Vietnamese fishermen were arrested near Palawan, the biggest illegal fishing bust in recent memory. 

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