Manila.- With oceans and seas making up a staggering 80% of our territory and producing in 2017 alone 4.31 million metric tons of fisheries worth P243.9 billion, the Philippines can become an aquaculture powerhouse of the world with the creation of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Sunday.
“Walang sinabi ang ibang bansa sa yaman ng ating karagatan. Pero bakit ganun? Ang mga mangingisda natin ay napakahirap pa rin ng buhay (Other countries pale in comparison to the wealth of our waters. But why do our fishermen continue to be among the poorest?)” said Pangilinan, former food security secretary.
In Senate Bill 32, Pangilinan refiled his proposed measure from the 17th Congress, stressing the need to have an agency that will look after the welfare of the country’s 1.6 million poverty-stricken Filipinos who depend on fisheries and aquaculture for livelihood, as well as oversee the country’s 2.2 million square kilometers of territorial waters.
“Gusto nating magkaroon ng isang departamento na tututok at tutugon sa mga balakid para kumita nang maayos ang ating mga mangingisda, kasama na rito ang mga dayuhang nag-i-illegal fishing sa ating mga dagat (We want to have a department that will focus on and address the obstacles to our fishermen earning enough, including illegal fishing of foreigners on our seas),” he added.
Citing the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Pangilinan said poverty incidence continues to remain high among fishermen — about 34% in 2015, higher by 12.4% than the poverty incidence of the general population.
Over the years, the budget of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has been a small fraction of the total budget of the Department of Agriculture, BFAR’s parent agency.
“Ngayon sa 2019 budget, one-eighth lang ang budget ng BFAR sa kabuuang budget ng DA (In the 2019 budget, BFAR’s budget is only one-eighth of the total DA budget),” Pangilinan said.
“Ibig sabihin, piso lang sa kada walong pisong budget ng DA ang napupunta sa sektor na bumubuo ng 80% ng ating teritoryo. Di ba dapat match nang konti ang budget sa size ng teritoryo? (That means that only one peso of every eight pesos goes to the sector that covers 80% of our territory. Shouldn’t the size of budget match better the size of our territory),” he added.
In the 2019 budget, BFAR gets P5.758 billion of the DA’s P47.293 billion.
“Four-fifths of our territory is ocean waters and marine resource-rich yet the DA budget allocates only one-eighth of its budget to fisheries. The lopsided misallocation must be corrected,” said the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture in the 15th and 17th Congress.
Pangilinan, principal author of the DFAR Act in the 18th Congress, said the created department shall have “primary jurisdiction over the management, conservation, development, protection, utilization, and disposition of all fishery and aquatic resources of the country.”
As such, the bill also, among others, mandates DFAR to implement relevant provisions of international treaties and agreements, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna And Flora (CITES), United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
In the 17th Congress, Pangilinan filed a similar measure, which remained pending in the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, which conducted only one committee hearing.
Besides the DFAR Act, Pangilinan’s priority legislation also includes Coco Levy Fund Act, Expanded Crop Insurance Act, and Post-harvest Facilities Support Act.
“Kung bibigyan ng dagdag na pagtutok at suporta ang matagalang pag-unlad ng sektor ng pangisdaan at ng ating yamang-dagat, napakalaki ang magiging potensyal at pakinabang nito hindi lamang sa ating mga mangingisda kundi pati na rin sa ekonomiya ng bansa. Pwede tayong maging aquaculture powerhouse (If we provide more focus and support for the sustainable development of the fisheries sector and our aquatic resources, it can reap a lot of potential and benefits not only for our fishermen but also the country’s economy. We can be an aquaculture powerhouse),” said Pangilinan.