MANILA – Following the favorable ruling for the Philippines on the dispute over the West Philippine Sea, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Tuesday reiterated the need for a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) to better manage the country’s marine resources.
“Kailangang masigurado na tayo ay makakapangisda nang walang takot, at matigil na ang pagsira sa ating mga yamang-dagat (Our fisher folk should again be able to fish without fear, and the destruction of our marine resources should be stopped),” Pangilinan said.
“Ang pagkakaroon ng isang miyembro ng Gabinete na lubusang tututok sa lagay ng ating pangisdaan at yamang-dagat ay magbibigay ng kasiguraduhan na ang mga ito ay lubusang protektado at may tamang pamamahala (Having a Cabinet-ranked official focusing on fisheries and aquatic resources will ensure that our marine resources are fully protected and managed),” he added.
Recent news reports said that Filipino fishermen are still being barred from fishing at the Scarborough Shoal despite last week’s historic win. As of 2015, some 12,000 fishermen rely on the West Philippine Sea for their livelihood, which accounts for 26 percent of the country’s fishing grounds.
“Beinte porsyento lamang ng Pilipinas ang lupain, habang 80 porsyento ay katubigan. Kailangang mayroon tayong angkop na kakayahang protektahan at pangalagaan ito (Twenty percent of our national territory is land, and 80 percent is water. We need to be able to protect and properly manage the largest chunk of our territory),” he said.
The Philippines is one of the largest fish producers in the world, contributing 17.65 percent to the country’s total agricultural output. About 1.4 million Filipinos rely on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihood.
“Ang ating mga mangingisda at ang mga naninirahan sa mga coastal areas ay mas mahirap pa sa ating mga magsasaka. Mas mataas nang 14 porsyento ang poverty incidence dito kumpara sa suma total ng buong bansa — isang hindi pagkapantay-pantay na dapat matutukan (Our fisher folk are even poorer than our farmers. Coastal villages are among the poorest areas. The poverty incidence is 14 percent higher than the national average. This is a glaring discrepancy that needs to be addressed),” Pangilinan said.
The act of creating a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources aims to strategically develop and use the country’s marine resources and, at the same time, curb poverty in the rural coastal areas.
The DFAR will be responsible for the “management, development, improvement, proper utilization, and conservation of the country’s marine resources… And will ensure that the needs and concerns of the fisher folk are adequately addressed,” according to the bill’s explanatory note.
NO MILITARY PRESENCE
Pangilinan added that elevating the current Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources into its very own Department will ensure that the Department of Agriculture will be able to focus on production so that the government’s resources will be fairly distributed and prioritized.
He also stressed the need to demilitarize the area so that interactions in the area remain purely between civilians.
“Masisiguro rin nito na mas magkakaroon sila ng kakayahang matupad ang kasalukuyang mandato kasama ng Philippine Coast Guard na maprotektahan ang ating mga karagatan, lalo na ang West Philippine Sea. Magkakaroon na ng kagawarang may makapagbibigay ng angkop na kakayahang magbantay rito (This will also ensure that they will be more able to fulfill their mandate alongside the Philippine Coast Guard to protect Philippine marine territory, especially the West Philippine Sea. There will be no need to send warships to police the territory if we have a Department fully capable of ensuring that there will be Coast Guards patrolling the seas),” Pangilinan said.
“Panahon na upang mabigyang-pansin ang mga mangingisda upang sila ay makapagpalaot nang malaya at walang-takot (It is time for us to look at the plight of our fisherfolk so that they may be able to set sail freely and without fear),” he added.
The creation of the DFAR is one of Pangilinan’s priority pieces of legislation for the 17th Congress which includes the Sagip Saka Bill and the Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill, filed June 30.