Navotas, Metro Manila — In a show of dissent against RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and its amendments (RA 10654), fisherfolk who attended the public meeting and consultation signed a statement of unity on August 29 at Barangay Tangos on August 29.

Small fishermen, small and medium-scale commercial boat operators, commercial boat fishermen (or fish workers), consignation holders, vendors, and members of the fishing community participated in the gathering initiated by Pinagbuklod na Pagkakaisa ng Mangingisda sa Navotas, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas), and Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Mamamayan sa Navotas (PIGLAS-Navotas).

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RA 10654, or “An act to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, amending Republic Act No. 8550, otherwise known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, and for other purposes,” is the government’s response to the ‘yellow warning tag’ given by the European Union for illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Philippine waters. It seeks to impose higher fines on commercial fishers that violate rules on distant water fishing and fishing gear.

Fisherfolk in Navotas see the policy, however, as one that will only serve the interests of both the Aquino government and local and foreign big businesses. “Mapanlinlang ang batas na ito sa pagkukunwaring pinoproteksyunan ang yamang-dagat gayung matagal na nitong pinahihintulutan ang malalaking pabrika at iba pang istruktura sa pagtatapon ng nakalalasong basura sa dagat…Pinahihintulutan din ng pamahalaan ang panghihimasok ng dayuhan sa ating teritoryo tulad ng pagwasak ng USS Guardian sa Tubbataha Reef at Chinese incursion sa West Philippine Sea,” the statement read.

PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas vice-chairperson Salvador France explained the implications of the planned privatization and conversion of Manila Bay. “Isa itong usapin ng pagsasamantala ng gubyerno para katayin na talaga at putulin na ang mga mangingisda natin sa bansa dahil nilalako ngayon ng gubyerno at lalo na ng BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) ang mga pook-pangisdaan doon sa akwakultura, o ang pangangalaga na lang ng isda sa ating mga pook-pangisdaan. Gagamitin ang pangalan ni Juan dela Cruz, pero ang mamumuhunan dito ang mga dayuhan na magnenegosyo sa bansa.”

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Fish workers are transported to their ‘pangulong’, or medium-size commercial fishing boats. These workers face the threat of imprisonment and loss of livelihood when RA 10654 is fully implemented.

The statement described the passage of RA 10654 as a delubyo, or a storm that will cripple the livelihoods of an estimated 15,000 fish workers, 6,348 small fisherfolk, and 10,000 others who work at fish ports. It also pointed out the imminence of affecting food security in Metro Manila, whose 10 million consumers depend heavily on Navotas’ supply of seafood.

The declaration of unity calls to junk the Fisheries Code; to forward a rehabilitation program for Manila Bay and Philippine waters in place of privatization and conversion; and to push for a genuine policy that will forward the interest of all sectors of the fishing community. To materialize the said goals, local, provincial, and regional fishing groups and allied organizations will initiate inquiries in the Senate and the Congress, file a temporary restraining order (TRO) against RA 10654, as well as launch a series of protests at the BFAR and the Department of Agriculture (DA).