Monday, October 27, 2014

Senate oks bill amending fisheries code

MANILA-The Senate today approved on third and final reading a bill which seeks to strengthen Philippine laws against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and to impose penalties against violators for a more effective conservation and protection of the country’s marine resources.

            Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Food and author of Senate Bill 2414 otherwise known as Amending the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, said the passage of the measure develop the country’s fisheries sector, which provided direct and indirect employment to over one million people or about 12 percent of the agricultural, fishery and forestry sector of the labor force.

The bill was co-authored by Senators Loren Legarda, Ramon Revilla Jr., Manuel Lapid, Jinggoy Ejercito-Estrada, Grace Poe, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Acting Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III.

Sotto, who introduced the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Code during the 9th Congress, congratulated Villar for a well-crafted new and updated version of the Code.

            For his part, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said that the bill’s approval stresses the "need to strengthen our laws in order to preserve our marine and aquatic resources and protect the livelihood of the members of our local fishing industry, which represents 2.1% of the nation’s entire gross domestic product (GDP)."   

            Data show that the Philippines ranks sixth in fish production and ninth in aquaculture production of fish, crustaceans and mollusks, making it among the top three largest producers of aquatic plants, including seaweeds. The same data show that the country’s aqua-culture production amounts to over $1.58 billion.

            “The bill aims to level the fishing legislation at par with other countries, especially with regard to conservation measures regarding threatened aquatic species, straddling and highly migratory species and other marine resources,” Villar said in her sponsorship speech.
            Villar said the proposed amendments in the Fisheries Code would address the requirements set by the European Union (EU) for countries exporting fisheries and other marine products to its markets.

            She said EU had been conducting regular audits on the country’s fisheries sector, specifically on the compliance to international food and safety and fishery regulations.

            In its 2012 audit report on the Philippines, the EU said the country’s present laws and regulations did not have enough sanctions and disincentives against IUU fishing and gave it a yellow tag warning. Failure to act on the yellow tag may result in the blacklisting of all Philippine marine products in the European Union market.

Villar said the measure also called for the creation of a Fisheries Management Fund to be administered by the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). The Fisheries Management Fund will provide scholarship grants for children of fisher folks and fish workers in fish catch, aquaculture, fishing, and fish processing. It will also provide programs for production enhancement and poverty alleviation and assistance to fishermen in the form of shared facilities. 

Villar said the fund would be sourced from the increased penalties for illegal, unauthorized and unreported fishing.

“Twenty five percent of the funds will be allocated to BFAR for fishery law enforcement while 75 percent of the collection will be allotted to provide assistance to poor fisherfolk,” Villar said. (Olive Caunan)

Senate pushes Sugar Cane Industry Development bill in preparation for ASEAN integration

MANILA-The Senate today passed on third and final reading a bill which seeks to help sugar industry players become more competitive when imported sugar starts flooding the local market with the integration of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community next year.

            Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Food and sponsor of Senate Bill No. 2400, otherwise known as the Sugar Cane Industry Development Act of 2014, said the proposed legislation would put in place programs to promote and support the competitiveness of the Philippine sugar industry.

            “The fear among sugar farmers is that they will not be able to compete with cheaper and government-subsidized sugar from abroad and this will directly impact their livelihood,” Villar said.

            “As it stands, we are self-sufficient in sugar but we are anticipating stiffer competition with cheaper sugar from abroad, particularly Thailand, which is the largest sugar producer among ASEAN countries with the Philippines coming in second,” she added.

Senate President Franklin M. Drilon agreed, noting that the agricultural measure will greatly complement “the set of economic reform measures currently being pushed in the Senate to secure the country’s macroeconomic fundamentals and fiscal sustainability, in preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community’s (AEC) launch next year.”

            Once the bill is passed into law, Villar says the sugar workers will be granted more assistance to boost their competitiveness through the Block Farm Program, Farm Support Program and a scholarship program.
            The Block Farm Program is a consolidation of small farms, around five hectares or less, into a large farm.

            “Admittedly, small players will have difficulties competing with bigger players. This practice will take advantage of the economies of scale in the production of sugar cane. This will result in operational advantages because activities in the small farms are aligned and the efficient use of farm machineries and equipment, deployment of workers, volume purchase of inputs, and financing, are ensured,” Villar explained.

Meanwhile, owners of farms with around nine hectares or less can avail of the Farm Support Program wherein they will be granted access to socialized credit through the Land Bank of the Philippines for the acquisition of production inputs, farm machineries, and implements necessary for the continuous production of sugar cane.

            Another provision of the bill is the availability of a Scholarship Program for the underprivileged college and post graduate students who are taking up courses in agriculture, agricultural engineering and mechanics, chemical engineering/sugar technology in state colleges and universities as well as vocational courses for farmers and farm technicians and skilled workers in sugar mills, sugar refineries, distilleries and biomass power plants.

            Once the bill is passed into law, capability trainings will be conducted as well as attendance to local or international trainings including seminars by farmers and workers on the latest technologies related to sugar cane farming, manufacture or production and other products derived from sugar cane, according to Villar.

            She said the program would be sourced from the Sugar Cane Industry Development Fund, which would receive 15 percent of the Value Added Tax on local and imported sugar and tariff collected from the importation of sugar.

            “The bill aims to generate funds to strengthen the competitiveness and boost diversification efforts of the sugarcane industry, especially when tariff on imported sugar drops to a mere five percent by 2015 under the AEC,” Villar said.

            Currently, the Philippines sugarcane industry provides employment to at least 600,000 workers and contributes P76 billion annually to the country’s economy.
            “The biggest opportunity is that it has turned our region and our market into a very promising and viable market. We need to equip Filipino businesses and industries, including the sugarcane industry, with adequate support to get a sizable chunk of that market or to seize those opportunities. The key is preparedness and enhanced competitiveness,” Villar said. (Apple Buenaventura)

Legarda: PHL Gov’t Must Prepare MSMEs for ASEAN Economic Integration

MANILA-Senator Loren Legarda today said that as ASEAN member-countries anticipate the emergence of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by December 2015, the Philippine government must ensure that the country’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are ready to be part it.

Legarda said that, in pursuit of an AEC, ASEAN operates on the assumption that with open borders and free trade, more investments will come in and therefore improve the region’s competitiveness.

“It is believed that the AEC will allow the region to gain greater influence in the global economic and political stage. But we take note that the ASEAN region is dominated by MSMEs, which continue to operate as subsistence-based enterprises. If left unprepared or if they remain uncompetitive, our MSMEs will find little benefit from an AEC,” said Legarda, noting that MSMEs account for 98 percent of all enterprises and about 85 percent of total employment in the region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that as of 2010, duties have been eliminated on 99.2 percent of tariff lines for the ASEAN-6 Member States, including Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.  In the case of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam, tariff has been reduced to 0 to 5 percent on 97.52 percent of tariff lines.  This is partly the reason why there is a significant level of goods from other ASEAN countries in the Philippine market today.

“For the consumers, this can mean wider choices, lower product costs, and exposure to ASEAN brands.  For Philippine MSMEs that are not able to bring their production costs down and compete against well-supported MSMEs of other countries, this development can spell the end,” the Senator warned.

Legarda said that while MSMEs are the backbone of the ASEAN economies, contributing to about 30 to 50 percent to GDP and accounting for 19 to 31 percent of their economies’ exports, they are clearly susceptible to greater competition given that they have limited access to finance and technologies, as well as markets. 

“MSMEs have limited capacities for compliance with standards and certification.  Under this scenario, MSMEs are likely to lose out in deeper competition that will be ushered by AEC. Clearly, innovation and creativity play a significant role in transforming small businesses into competitive components of the ASEAN value chain.  We need to develop industries that will be innovators, rather than consumers, of technology,” she explained.

“If played out wisely, ASEAN’s bold vision of achieving the free flow of goods, services, investment, and skilled labor in the region may help us achieve higher productivity and economic diversification; but we have to play our cards well. The road for an AEC has been paved. We just need to make sure that the path we take will indeed bring us to the goal of a better life for all the people in the region,” Legarda concluded.


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