Thirty-two mayors from different coastal towns are opposed to the proposal of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to use the coast of the mainland as a reference point in the delineation of municipal waters instead of the farthest offshore island of a town.
The mayors from different coastal towns in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao fear that the proposal would intensify commercial fishing in municipal waters.
BFAR is proposing to pass an administrative order (AO) on the “Guidelines for Delineating/Delimiting Municipal Waters for Municipalities and Cities with Offshore Islands.”
Its objectives, according to the draft of the AO, is to conserve, protect and sustain the management of the country’s fishery and aquatic resources; alleviate poverty and provide supplementary livelihood among municipal fisherfolk; and improve productivity of aquaculture within ecological limits.
This is also in line with the government’s pursuit of a “flexible policy towards the attainment of food security” in response to changes in demographic trends for fish, emerging trends in the trade of fish and other aquatic products in domestic and international markets, and the law of supply and demand, BFAR said.
Mayors’ joint resolution
However, the mayors said in a joint resolution that they believe “delineating the municipal waters of coastal local government units (LGUs) with offshore islands should start from the farthest island of the municipality [because] using the mainland as reference of delineation — and as proposed by the BFAR — will drastically reduce the area of our municipal waters and open these to commercial fishers.”
For her part, Libertad Mayor Mary Jean Te of Antique said such proposals would negatively affect small fisherfolk and their livelihood, especially now that they “have become even more vulnerable than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic hit all of us.”
The resolution opposing the draft guidelines was passed by 32 mayors from different parts of the country in an online forum organized by different civil society groups under the PANAGAT (Pangingisda Natin Gawing Tama (PaNaGaT) network.
The resolution was submitted to the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (NFARMC), which is deliberating the proposed rules of delineation of the municipal waters.
In a study conducted by nongovernment group Oceana, almost 30 LGUs stand to lose more than 50 percent of their municipal waters at the mercy of commercial fishing because of BFAR’s proposal. Cuyo, Palawan tops the list with 85 percent of its municipal waters to be considered as national waters, allowing commercial fishing to exploit its critical marine resources.
This is followed by Culasi, Antique that will lose 84 percent of its municipal waters, and the third is Vinzons, Camarines Norte with 82 percent loss.
The LGUs are now urging the Department of Agriculture and BFAR to allow them to treat their waters between their islands as one management unit, where their fish sanctuaries, marine reserves and managed access areas form as integral parts of their jurisdiction.
Lack of consultation
“We would also like to reiterate our concern over the lack of consultation with local chief executives on the existing draft guidelines on municipal water delineation. The draft policy that adheres to the mainland principle could dramatically alter our territorial jurisdictions. It would also affect current local government initiatives and policy issuances in managing our municipal waters, as accorded to us by the Local Government Code,” the joint resolution stated.
“We strongly urge that the DABFAR initiate a more transparent and participatory consultation, in coordination with the League of Cities and Municipalities, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG),” it added.