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Palace's suspension of fishing vessels monitoring lauded, opposed

Malacañang has suspended the implementation of a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources order, which required fishing operators to install satellite transponders so their commercial fishing vessels could be monitored.

Through a memorandum Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin signed, the administration suspended the enforcement of Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266, which also required commercial fishers to report their catch through Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) and an Electronic Reporting System (ERS).

The memorandum, dated March 13, 2023, directed the Department of Agriculture and BFAR to "hold in abeyance the implementation of FAO No. 266 nationwide, pending the final resolution over its constitutionality by the Supreme Court."

Bersamin cited “supervening events," which compelled the exercise of an abundance of caution on the part of implementing agencies of the said order and the principle of “inter-branch” courtesy among the three branches of government.

The suspension order came after the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations Inc. (APFFI) wrote a letter to the Office of the President expressing its concern over BFAR’s implementation of VMM and ERS for local commercial fishing vessels.

The APFFI said there was a permanent injunction issued in June 2021 by the Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 170 against the implementation of FAO 266, "declaring it as null and void for being unconstitutional."

The matter has since been pending before the Supreme Court.

Fisherfolk group Inter-Island and Deep Sea Fishing Association (IDSFA) has lauded Malacañang’s decision, saying that it will help improve local fish production.

"The suspension of FAO 266 is a bright move as it would definitely boost the country’s fish production, which is important in attaining food security,” IDSFA director Roderic Santos said in a press release.

“FAO 266 limits fish production in the Philippines, while the country resorts to massive importation," he added.

For its part, the environmental group Oceana expressed its opposition to the Palace's suspension of the directive as it also called for the government's reconsideration on the matter.

The group said stopping the monitoring of commercial fishing vessels could result in overfishing or illegal fishing in the country. 

"We have to comply with the Constitution and the amended Fisheries Code to protect our marine wealth, the livelihoods of our artisanal fisherfolk, and mainstream transparency, traceability, and accountability in ocean governance," said Oceana Vice President Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos in a statement.

"Said directive is regressive and brings us back to an open access system which has caused overfishing and illegal fishing to thrive for decades and a bane to our small-scale fisherfolk who are deprived of the marine resources and suffer from the encroachment of our municipal waters by commercial fishing vessel operators,” she added. —NB, GMA Integrated News