Poaching in our waters

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos June 20,2019 - 09:35 AM


‘Indignation’ is a mild word to describe the feeling about Malacanang’s position in the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat at the Recto Bank by a Chinese fishing vessel, as acknowledged by no less by the Chinese government.

Whether the ramming was intentional or not, the fact remains that the Filipino boat was stationary and moored, during the incident that raises the presumption of negligence. As a highly esteemed colleague and law school dean opined, the “vessel that initiated the contact or causes the impact is presumed to be negligent.”

Worse, no help was extended to the 22 Filipino crew and the captain. They were abandoned in the dark vast part of the West Philippine sea as it happened midnight of June 9. The act was plainly inhumane and international law experts say it was a gross violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, among others.

We feel the sense of abandonment by the survivors and their families who are traumatized by what tragically is dismissed in a cacophony of statements from national officials as a “small maritime incident.”

What must be highlighted likewise are the twin issues on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing as well as the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) system that should be considered in the investigation of this matter.

Was the Chinese fishing vessel given a permit to enter our waters after giving at least 24 hours notice to government? If in the affirmative, who or which agency issued the permit?

If the process was not followed, clearly the presumption of poaching arises.

Republic Act 10654 which amended the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1098 provides, as follows:

“Section 91. Poaching in Philippine Waters. – It shall be unlawful for any foreign person, corporation or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.

The entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters shall constitute a prima facie presumption that the vessel is engaged in fishing in Philippine waters.”

At least, two thirds of our fishing grounds are on the edge of collapse for being overfished.

According to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, the Philippines loses PHP5.07 trillion worth of fisheries yearly due to illegal and destructive (fishing) practices based on studies.

“Some PHP4.9 trillion is the annual losses attributed to blast fishing, PHP61 billion for poaching, and PHP9.4 billion for overfishing.”

RA 10654 provides stiff sanctions for Poaching, as follows:

“Upon a summary finding of administrative liability, any foreign person, corporation or entity in violation of this section shall be punished by an administrative fine of Six hundred thousand US dollars (US$600,000.00) to One million US dollars (US$1,000,000.00) or its equivalent in Philippine currency.

Upon conviction by a court of law, the offender shall be punished with a fine of One million two hundred thousand US dollars (US$1,200,000.00), or its equivalent in Philippine currency, and confiscation of catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel.

If the offender is caught within internal waters, an additional penalty of imprisonment of six (6) months and one (1) day to two (2) years and two (2) months shall be imposed. If apprehended for the second time within internal waters, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment of three (3) years and a fine of Two million four hundred thousand US dollars (US$2,400,000.00) or its equivalent in Philippine currency: Provided, That no foreign person shall be deported without the payment of the imposed judicial and/or administrative fines and service of sentence, if any.”

Poaching is a crime, an IUU fishing, and a gross threat to food and national security.

If we are truly concerned and serious in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in this megadiverse country of ours, government has to strengthen its MCS system and put in place vessel monitoring systems and mechanisms that track behavior of fishing vessels and provide safety mechanisms for all at sea.

The Recto Bank incident is another urgent wake up call for authorities and stakeholders to walk the talk in fighting, stopping and deterring illegal fishing happening in our waters.

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