Protecting and Conserving Our Municipal Waters

Manila Bulletin, August 14, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Protecting and Conserving Our Municipal Waters


THERE are about a million municipal fisherfolk engaged in various fishing-related work. They have over three million dependents and they are among the poorest of the poor. Ours is an archipelagic country with one of the richest biodiversity. Consider this. We have a total coastline of more than 18,000 kilometers, 26.6 million hectares of coastal waters, and 193.4 million hectares of oceanic waters, and more than 5,000 species of marine plants and animals, a good number of which has commercial value. On the other hand, our total land area is 299,764 sq. kilometers. However, if we compare existing policies on agriculture with those of marine and fisheries resources, we can conclude right away that we have more of the former. We have more schools of agriculture than fisheries and marine sciences. We have a Department of Agriculture but only a bureau of fisheries.

There is now a growing recognition of the need for a more responsive policy framework that would balance our social justice goals of meeting the needs of this disadvantaged sector with those of productivity and global competitiveness. There is talk of reorganization, and one idea being floated around is that of integrating the Department of Agriculture with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Agrarian Reform. A rationale, in addition to keeping government bureaucracy "lean and mean" on account of our budgetary crisis, is that there is need to eliminate overlapping functions in DENR and BFAR which is under the Department of Agriculture, (For example, Region 10 Director Arlene Pantanosas noted the need to rationalize BFAR and DENR roles in coastal resource management), improve efficiency and ensure that they are able to respond to new realities and needs.

A reality today needing urgent response is that of rationalizing the United Nations Law of the Sea or Unclos. It will be remembered that the late Senator Arturo Tolentino was the author of the Law of the Sea which, under the Treaty of Paris established and expanded our international territorial waters. Today, we need a law that would define the archipelagic principle and would strengthen our claim to the Spratly Islands. This is a contentious issue one which has elicited a number of public reactions including that of collective management among the various country claimants.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Malcolm I. Sarmiento Jr. is now pushing for a baselines law and needs a champion in Congress. The law would delineate maritime zones, set up a sea lane within an archipelagic state, and define rules regarding fishing within 0-10 kilometer zone. The issue of delineation of municipal waters is left to local governments.

On August 23, the Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) Project Team will convene a policy forum sponsored by BFAR and the Fisheries Resource Management Project (FRMP).

Participants from both government and private sectors will prepare a policy agenda for the Municipal Fisheries Sector. Among issues to be examined for an Action Plan are recommendations from a recent policy advocacy planning workshop and the Municipal Fisheries Summit held last year.

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