Fishers group concerned of bill seeking to put WPS features as ‘marine protected areas’

Published November 28, 2022, 1:22 PM

by Jel Santos

A progressive group of fisherfolk has expressed concern over a House Bill that seeks to place the features in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as marine protected areas, saying it would “sweepingly cover municipal fisherfolk, while failing to prevent Chinese and foreign poachers in our territorial waters.”

West Philippine Sea (FILE PHOTO FROM AFP)

In a statement released on Monday, Nov. 28, Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said House Bill No. 6373, introduced by Palawan 3rd District Representative Edward Hagedorn, seeks to establish marine protected areas within three nautical miles of the baselines surrounding the Kalayaan Group of Islands and Panatag Shoal (Scarborough).

Pamalakaya National Chairperson Fernando Hicap said that while they recognize the bill’s goal of protecting major features in the WPS from destructive fishing practices, they are concerned that the proposed marine protected areas will cover small fishers as well, because the proposed marine protected areas will be within municipal waters.

According to Pamalakaya, three nautical miles equates to nearly six kilometers of the 15-kilometer municipal fishing grounds.

“We will be vigilant of this bill that could restrict Filipino fishers from their traditional fishing grounds while actually failing to prevent China and other foreign fleets from conducting large-scale fishing, among other destructive activities beyond the municipal waters,” the group vowed.

Local conservation measures, Pamalakaya said, would be “unnecessary” if the Marcos administration effectively upholds the arbitral ruling recognizing the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.

“There would be no need to explore risky alternative measures because there’s already the international tribunal which is actually our strongest legal claim that we could enforce against China’s continued usurpation of our territorial waters. But it needs decisive action from the Marcos government and sincerity to uphold our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Hicap said.

Pamalakaya said it will study the House Bill and consult with its chapters in Southern Tagalog and Zambales, as well as marine scientists, about the measure’s potential effects.