Fisherfolk demands scrap of BFAR’s Bantay Laot Progam
Manila, Philippines – The militant fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) calls for the scrapping of Bantay Laot Program, a law-enforcement program of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to curb its so-called illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The Bantay Laot Program equips municipal fisherfolk with weapons to run after another fisherfolk who will engage in illegal fishing activities in the municipal waters. Illegal fishing by category of the government includes engaging in destructive fishing method like using of dynamite, cyanide, and other fishing gears categorized by government as destructive; not able to report the amount of fish catch to BFAR personnel; and fishing within the designated marine protected areas and fish sanctuaries. These new fishing rules are under the amendment Fisheries Code or the Republic Act 10654.
Bantay Laot Program serves as prerequisite of fisherfolk to have access on BFAR’s cash and livelihood assistance. On Sunday, BFAR Region 11 gave cash incentives amounting from PHP1,000 to PHP2,000 to 578 fisherfolk in 23 barangays in Davao City to hire them as sea watchers. PAMALAKAYA estimates that more than 1,000 fisherfolk this year have been registered to Bantay Laot Program, majority of those are in Mindanao.
For PAMALAKAYA, this militaristic approach to resolve illegal fishing activities will create rift between small fisherfolk who will be obliged to run and catch after one another. The fisherfolk group said BFAR’s assistance should be no condition especially if it involves violence among small fisherfolk.
“BFAR is creating rift between small fisherfolk instead of uniting them to protect and utilize the fishing waters to promote domestic food security. Creating water militia will likely cause vigilantism and lawlessness in the sea. It is the utmost duty of the government forces in the first place to protect the livelihood of small fisherfolk both from local and foreign commercial fishing vessels that actually exploit the waters through unwarranted fishing expedition,”
“This crumb of government assistance requires the fisherfolk to set its one foot on the grave by making them shoot and kill each other in compliance with BFAR’s absurd order to catch illegal fishers,” Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA Chairperson said in a statement.
The fisherfolk group said the Philippine Coast Guard and BFAR should designate their own personnel who will catch commercial fishers that enter the 15-kilometer municipal fishing water allotted to the small fisherfolk by the fisheries law.
“Guns and ammunitions are the last thing that the fisherfolk want. They need sufficient fishing technologies like boats and fishing gears that will accelerate and uplift their production. The real illegal fishers are the large-scale commercial fishing fleets that exploit our fishing waters and destroy its marine resources leaving nothing for the small fisherfolk. We challenge BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona to be realistic on his programs in fisheries. He seems out of tune to the basic needs of the fishing sector,” ended Hicap. ###