Bongbong Marcos told: ‘Red Card’ reports vs PH fisheries ‘baseless’
MANILA, Philippines—President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was told by the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations, Inc. (APFFI) to brush off “baseless” reports that the European Commission (EC) is set to issue a “Red Card” against the Philippines for illegal fishing.
The alliance, which is composed of several commercial fishing associations, addressed Marcos in a letter dated June 5 that “there should be no basis for the recent pronouncement that there is a danger of EC issuing a ‘Red Card’ to the Philippines.” EC refers to the European Commission, the European Union’s (EU) governing body.
According to the group, without factual and legal basis, “it would be against the fundamental principles of substantive and procedural due process” if the EC will immediately issue a Red Card while the Philippines is in “Green Card” status.
The APFFI pointed out that “as the stakeholders representing the private sector, we were called to a meeting by various government offices and agencies in order to discuss the EC’s ‘Red Card’ notice.”
However, the Philippines, as reflected in the website of the EU IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) Fishing Coalition, is still in a Green Card status, which means that it is cooperative in the international fight against IUU.
According to the alliance in a statement on June 7, “there is no reason why the country should not keep its ‘Green Card’ status from the EC given its relentless efforts to fight against IUU.”
Red, green status
Based on the EC’s website, the EU is the world’s largest import market for fisheries products and bears responsibility as market state to ensure that products stemming from IUU fishing activities do not access the EU single market.
To achieve this, the EC requires flag states, such as the Philippines, to certify the origin and legality of fish shipments, to ensure the full traceability of all marine fishery products traded from and into the EU.
“The system thus ensures that countries comply with their own conservation and management rules as well as with internationally agreed rules [against IUU],” the EC said.
EC said cooperation is most needed to solve problems on IUU, but there are third countries where the situation is still problematic even after years of informal cooperation.
It pointed out that “in those cases, the Commission can resort to the different actions established in EU IUU Regulation vis-a-vis non-cooperating third countries in fighting IUU fishing.”
Concretely, when the EC has evidence that a third country does not cooperate fully in the fight against IUU fishing, it will issue a “Yellow Card,” or a warning of the risk of being identified as a non-cooperating country.
This status starts a formal dialogue in which the EC and the country work together to solve all issues of concern. EC said in most cases, this dialogue is productive and the pre-identification can be removed, placing the country in a Green Card status.
This was what happened in 2015, when the EC lifted the warning it issued against the Philippines in 2014, as the Philippine Congress passed amendments to Republic Act No. 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.
However, the EC explained that if progress is not sufficient, it will identify the third country as non-cooperating. This is called the Red Card, which means that fisheries products from the country in question will be banned from the EU market.
This Red Card status is now reportedly set to be issued against the Philippines supposedly because of the permanent injunction issued by the Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 170 against Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266.
FAO No. 266 was signed on Oct. 12, 2020 to list down rules and regulations in the implementation of the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and installment of Electronic Reporting System (ERS) in commercial fishing vessels operating in the Philippines.
But on June 1, 2021, the RTC declared it void, saying it’s not constitutional. This was appealed to the Supreme Court, which is yet to issue a decision. There was likewise no Temporary Restraining Order issued.
The APFFI asked: “In case the cause of action for the EC’s ‘Red Card’ is due to the permanent injunction issued by the RTC […] does the EC find itself above and beyond the judicial processes of [the] country as enshrined in our Constitution?”
“We hope that as President of the Philippines, you find in your wisdom a balance between competing interests for the greater good of the country and find solace in our Constitution,” it told Marcos.
The APFFI’s members include the Inter-Island and Deep Sea Fishing Association, Quezon-Marinduque Fishing Boat Operators and Fishermen’s Association, United Bicol Fishing Federation, and the Bisayas Alliance of Fisherfolk and Operators Reform Inc.
Good or bad?
The VMS forms part of the Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System, which the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources had said seeks to effectively monitor and control marine resources, especially through the detection of illegal activities.
The group Oceana previously pointed out that the VMS is an important tool to ensure that commercial fishing operators will not enter municipal waters, the critical 15-kilometer zone from the shoreline that is the spawning ground of fish and their habitat.
It said based on the Philippine Fisheries Code, as amended, commercial fishing vessels are prohibited from entering municipal waters—the reason it called on the government to implement the system.
However, the APFFI said it “strongly opposes” FAO 266, stressing that “its implementation could wipe out the commercial fishing industry, affecting food security as well as employment.”
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“The country’s fish requirements will eventually join the basket of controversial basic products, e.g. rice, onions, garlic, sugar, beef, pork, chicken, among others,” the APFFI said.
It pointed out that based on science, sardines and small pelagics are in waters from 7 to 50 fathoms, which are usually within municipal waters: “Impact on production will be at least 50 percent or more.”
Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority for the years 2019 to 2021, the APFFI said straddling and highly migratory pelagic fish comprise 30 percent of annual fish production.
“This is the bulk of fish exports, not only to the EU, but also to the United States and other countries. However, small pelagic fish such as sardines and round scad comprise a higher portion or about 50 percent of the annual fish production and is for domestic consumption,” the group said.
“Any VMS implementation should consider and balance the importance of both of these sectors,” it said.