GENERAL SANTOS CITY – Speaking in the tuna capital of the Philippines, senatorial candidate Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Friday called for the acceleration of bilateral talks over Philippine fishing rights in Indonesian waters that lapsed in 2006.
“Naaapektuhan na ang ating maliliit na mandaragat. Dapat nang madaliin ang bilateral talks ng ating pamahalaan at ng pamahalaan ng ating kapit-dagat na Indonesia para magkaroon tayong muli ng karapatang makapangisda sa dagat doon (Our small fisher-folk are already affected. Our government should fast-track its bilateral talks with the Indonesian government to reclaim our right to fish there again),” Pangilinan said.
Last May, the two countries have started talks that could signal the revival of a bilateral fishing agreement. Fishing officials from the Philippines and Indonesia have agreed to convene a technical working group to flesh out the issues raised by Filipino-owned fishing companies.
Following the lapse in the fishing agreement between the two countries, Indonesia last year indicated that it would not allow foreign fishing companies, including those from the Philippines, to fish in its waters so as to protect its territorial waters and fishing grounds from illegal fishing. Its Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries also seeks to require that only Indonesians be hired in foreign-owned fishing vessels licensed to fish in their waters.
These new policies from Indonesia have affected a number of Filipino-owned companies operating there, as well as small Filipino fishermen who usually man their commercial fishing boats for supplementary income.
Under the expired bilateral fishing agreement, Philippine tuna fleets are allowed to catch tuna and tuna-like species within the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone. It provided licenses to the Philippines for 75 catcher vessels, 150 fish carriers, 20 long liners, 300 light boats, and 10 single purse seiners, and allowed access to the Pacific and Indian Ocean areas of the Indonesian EEZ. The agreement also provides offloading and re-supply access to 10 Indonesian ports.
Relatedly, Pangilinan highlighted the fact that Filipino fishermen with smaller boats have caught less fish within three kilometers of Philippine coasts, and earn an average of less than P23,000 a year, making them among the poorest sector.
“Napaka-mapanganib ng trabaho ng ating mga mangingisda, at madalas hindi pa sapat o sigurado ang resulta ng kanilang pamamalakaya (Our fisher-folk’s job is very dangerous, and often their catch is insufficient and unsure),” said the former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.
To focus on their plight and raise their standard of living, Pangilinan is proposing the creation of a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.