Illegal fishers go free due to loopholes in Fisheries Code
INHERENT loopholes in the provisions of Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 are the very causes for the dismissal of various cases of illegal fishing in the country, a lawmaker today lamented.
“By clearly vesting authority to specific persons to enforce the Code and file complaints against violators based on deputization, the law would be properly implemented,” Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento (1st District, Western Samar), author of HB 1988 stressed.
Sarmiento explained that R.A. 8550 provides the authorized persons to enforce fishery laws, rules and regulations. However, he noted, the Code is silent on who the specific persons are who will file the corresponding charges on illegal fishing violations.
“There were previous instances wherein the cases filed by fisherfolk/fish wardens tasked to be the apprehending officers were either not accepted or dismissed by the courts due to lack of legal authority to do so,” Sarmiento said.
HB 1988 is now in the hands of a technical working group (TWG) created by the House Committee on Aquaculture and Fisheries Resources.
“I am hoping against hope that this proposed measure would see the light of day before adjournment of the 15th Congress. But, just in case, I am determined to pursue passage of the measure in the incoming Congress,” the author stressed.
The author said that the Code provides that the deputization (of enforcement officers) is vested with the Department of Agriculture (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), but this authority is also implemented by the local governments as provided in R.A. 7160 – The Local Government Code of 1991.
“This is why the need to limit the agencies that enforce the provisions of the fishery statute,” Sarmiento added.
Section 124 of R.A. 8550, under HB 1988, is hereby proposed to read as follows:
“Sec. 124 — Persons and deputies authorized to enforce this Code and other Fishery Laws, Rules and Regulations and file corresponding charges against Fishery violators at competent court.”
“The law enforcement officers of the Department, PNP-Maritime Command, and composite team consisting of local PNP, Local, Fishery officers of fisherfolks associations who have undergone training on law enforcement and may be designated in writing by the Department as Deputy Fish Wardens in the enforcement of this Code and other fishery laws, rules and regulations and file the corresponding charges against fishery violators at competent courts. These enforcers should be in their proper uniforms with proper identifications and documents during the enforcements of the law.”
The lawmaker further noted that there are many law enforcement officers designated in Section 124 of the Code, but a large number of these belong to members of the community (fish wardens) who are volunteers in nature and deserve to avail of financial, personal and legal support from the concerned government agencies.
“The following considerations should be given: 1) allowance for food, transportation and other incidental expenses; 2) health and medical benefits that includes accident and death; 3) personal security; and 4) legal assistance during prosecution and court proceedings,” the author said.