(02) 8421-0730 / (0915) 446-1243 ngos4fisheriesreform@nfr.ph

The year 2015 witnessed major policy changes that govern human activities in the context of increasing global temperature. It was the time when major issues on environmental degradation and the need for sustainability were discussed. One of the policies that emerged was the new climate regime that would replace the Kyoto Protocol. And what made it to be the burning issue in the tug of war of interests that happened during the negotiation was the framework itself of the agreement that would determine actions of all states. One of the popular calls then was that of Loss and Damage which obliges industrialized countries to increase their target of carbon emission cut relative to developing nations and shell out fund for adaptation efforts by virtue of their historical accountability for being the major polluters. It was however the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution that was later agreed upon with the provision that target for carbon emission cut lies at the discretion of the government and global cut is pegged to a conservative figure of less than 2 degrees Celsius.

In the case of Philippine, what might be considered as one remarkable development in the whole sustainability trend was the amendment on the 17-year old fisheries law. The pressure point however did not come from the sector itself that has long called for its review for its failure to address poverty in coastal communities but from the intergovernmental organization and economic bloc that is the European Union (EU). Specific to its demands, EU wanted to put up traceability mechanism to fishery products entering its market to make sure they were not caught by any means of destructive fishing method. Should the Philippines fail to comply, trade sanctions will be imposed. With the export industry taken hostage, it did not take both Houses of Congress too long to pass the proposed amendments and for this reason stakeholders felt that they were disenfranchised. Yet amidst the reservations of civil society organizations and even commercial fishing giants, the proposed amendments on R.A. 8550 still pushed through and its new implementing rules and regulations was finally signed.


What’s In and What’s Not

If one takes a closer look at the commitment submitted by the Philippine government to the United Nations, the country targeted a 70% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction by the year 2030. This target is said to be achieved by cutting carbon emission coming specifically from the energy, transport, water, forestry, and industry sectors. The Commission on Climate Change under the Office of the President has yet to release its specific plans and programs on how the country will go about reaching its set target. It is however mentioned already by the Commission in its press releases that one critical factor in order for the Philippines to do its fair share is the availability of resources and technical assistance. The Commission has not articulated yet how adaptive and resiliency efforts would translate to marginalized groups and communities most vulnerable to risks.

With regard to the provisions of the new fisheries law, among its salient points is the installment of vessel monitoring system for commercial fishing fleet, increased penalty for violations, the establishment of an adjudication board to settle cases, and the setting of a reference point for the purpose of determining allowable fish catch. As much as it is claimed to be revolutionary the fact is there is no single provision in the amendment that promotes modernization of the sector, worst maintaining its backward given the absence of commitment for support industry, subsidy on boats and fishing gears, and safe settlement, among others. It is one thing that we are re-opening the issue of ensuring fair access to the sea and the market and resource management efforts but for an ordinary fisherfolk appreciation on the amendments may prove different.


Rethinking our Strategies

We have learned from years of advocacy that no matter how small policy gain is it still opens opportunities for incremental change. Notwithstanding this fact however is the danger that the fisherfolk sector might have been losing more than what it is presumed to get due to the absence of critical reforms that should have been lobbied in the first place. It is the case when we are so locked up with bureaucratic processes and unnecessary eloquences that we forget the most basic concerns of the sector. Moreover, in the case presented by the amendments on R.A. 8550 and the commitment of the Philippine government to reduce carbon emission, we could have maximized the democratic spaces of engagement to truly advance the interests of the sector. While we may not have felt the fatigue of doing advocacy yet that’s why we settle for protracted but assured gains, we should take in mind that the everyday struggle that is being experienced by the sector continues to intensify and worsen. It is as if we have been waging the wrong battle for the longest time.


Article written by Mr. Erlo Matorres