Press Release
February 29, 2016

Villar stresses gains under amended Fisheries Code

A year after its enactment into law, Sen. Cynthia Villar stressed the benefits enjoyed by the fisheries and agriculture sector under the amended Fisheries Code of the Philippines.

Appearing in a press conference at the Senate with fisheries stakeholders, Villar said the amended law has not only caused entry into GSP Plus (Generalised Scheme of Preferences), which allows the export of 6,000 Philippine products to European countries but also implemented measures that directly benefit around 1.6 million fishery workers.

"This is a landmark legislation that we prioritized in the first year of term as chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Food. Since its enactment, it caused marked improvement in the campaign against overfishing and the effort to safeguard the livelihood of over a million Filipinos in the long term," Villar said.

The press conference was also attended by Asst. Adm. Benjamin Tabios, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Dennis Calvan, Executive Director, Non-Government Organization for Fisheries Reform; Vince Cinches of Greenpeace; Miriam Belaos of Pantao Fisherfolks Association; Jeruel Rizon, Fisheries Technician from Negros Oriental; and Lito Misaon of Anti-illegal Fishing Task Force (Ligao City).

Representatives from Mindoro Tuna Fishers Federation, Mindoro Provincial Fisherfolk Representative and Councilor Pietro Pasigna of Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, were also present.

Republic Act 10654 amends RA 8550 otherwise known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and cracks down on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF). It was enacted on February 27, 2015.

The passage of the said law caused the lifting of the yellow tag imposed by the European Union. If not immediately addressed, the tag would cause a ban on the Philippines to export fish products to one of the country's largest markets. Based on figures from the BFAR, in 2013 alone, the Philippines exported PhP9.4 billion worth of fish products, primarily tuna, to EU countries.

As an offshoot of the lifting of the yellow tag, the Philippines now enjoys the advantage of being the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that was accepted in the GSP Plus program of the European Commission. "Allowing Philippine producers to export more than 6,000 products to any of the 28 EU member countries at zero tariff will definitely help the Philippines diversify trade, increase exports and attract foreign direct investments," Villar said.

"This is on top of increasing employment opportunities, as it is expected to create more than 250,000 jobs in both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, majority of which in the rural areas," she added.

With the enactment of the amended Philippine Fisheries Code, Villar said the country was able to fulfill its commitment to the international community to protect marine life and resources.

"We recognize the threat overfishing poses to all nations of the world. If left unabated, it will not only make deserts out of our oceans in 2050, it will also mean a collapse of the fishing sector as a source of livelihood," Villar said.

Under the amended law, it is now unlawful to fish or take, catch, gather, sell, purchase, possess, transport, export, forward or ship out aquatic species listed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or those categorized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as threatened.

"The law puts the Philippine fishing legislation at par with other countries, especially the conservation of threatened aquatic species, straddling and highly migratory species, and other marine resources," she added.

The law was amended to ensure that management of fishery and aquatic resources is anchored on eco-system based approach in fishing. The new law ensures the traceability of all the catch of Philippine-flagged fishing vessels through a monitoring, control, and surveillance system.

The law sanctions IUUF and modified penalties for a more deterrent effect. It also ratifies the Fish Stocks Agreement as part of the coastal state measures.

The lady senator also pointed out a highlight of the amended bill, which provides for the creation of the Fisheries Management Fund from the fines and penalties collected. The fund will provide livelihood and scholarship programs, among others, to fisher folks and their family.

Under the law, 25 percent of the fund will be allocated to BFAR for fishery law enforcement and 75 percent will be allotted to provide assistance to poor fisher folk, to be broken down as follows:

A. 10% for the purchase, upgrade and maintenance of vessels, communication and other equipment used for the monitoring, control and surveillance, of Philippine waters and distant water fishing;

B. 5% for the payment of litigation expenses, cost of conveyance of witnesses and other costs due to cases filed by or against the Republic of the Philippines in international courts arising from the implementation of this act or where apprehending party or parties become respondents or defendants in any tribunal or court of law;

C. 15% for the operating costs of the IFARMC and MFARMC and payment for the cost of rehabilitation, medical expenses for injury, or indemnity for death of law enforcement officers, including deputized volunteers;

D. 20% for payment for rewards to informers and those who assisted in fishery law enforcement;

E. 5% for the continued upgrading of laboratory facilities and equipment;

F. 5% for the capability development of BFAR personnel, deputized law enforcement agencies and volunteers, and stakeholders;

G. 10% for scholarship grants for children of fisher folks and fish workers in fish catch, aquaculture, fishing and fish processing;

H. 15% for livelihood programs for production enhancement and poverty alleviation; and

I. 15% for assistance to fishermen in the form of shared facilities.

Along the line of assisting fisherfolks, the Department of Agriculture and BFAR launched during the National Fisheries Development Summit last February 3 the Comprehensive National Fisheries Industry Development Plan. The plan contains the subsector targets and action plans for the next five years.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that the Philippines ranked 7th among the top fish producing countries with a production of 4.7 million metric tons of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic plants, including seaweeds. The production constitutes 2.46% of the total world production of 191 million metric tons. The fisheries sector also provides direct and indirect employment to over one million people, or about 12 percent of the agriculture sector of the labor force.

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