The local fishing industry has urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to brush aside what it described as baseless reports that the European Commission (EC) is about to issue an illegal fishing “red card” against the Philippines.
In a letter dated June 5, 2023, the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations Inc. (APFFI) told the President, who is also the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), that there is no reason why the country should not keep its “green card” status from the EC given its relentless efforts to fight illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing (IUU).
“There should be no basis for the recent pronouncements that there is a danger the EC issuing a ‘Red Card’ to the Philippines as it would be against the fundamental principles of substantive and procedural due process if EC were to immediately issue a ‘Red Card’ where the Philippines’ status is ‘Green’ without factual and legal basis,” the APFFI said.
APFFI is composed of various commercial fishing associations nationwide from Luzon all the way to Mindanao. Its members include Inter-Island and Deep Sea Fishing Association, Quezon-Marinduque Fishing Boat Operators and Fishermen’s Association, United Bicol Fishing Federation, Bisayas Alliance of Fisherfolk and Operators Reform Inc., Zamboanga-based SOPHIL Fishing Association Inc., and One Visayas Fish Network Inc.
Under the EC’s carding system, a “red-carded” country is categorized as uncooperative in the international fight against IUU and is prevented from exporting its fishery products to the European Union.
Prior to issuing a red card, the EC must first issue a “yellow card,” indicating that the warned country risks being identified as non-cooperating country. The yellow card starts a formal dialogue in which the EC and the concerned country work together to solve all issues of concern.
There have been reports that the EC will issue a “red card” notice to the Philippines supposedly due to the permanent injunction issued in June 2021 by the Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 170 against the implementation of Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266, which it declared as null and void for being unconstitutional.
FAO 266, which was issued by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in 2020, required all commercial fishing operators to install satellite transceivers so that they can be tracked and for them to report their catch through the Vessel Monitoring Measures (VMM) and Electronic Reporting System, respectively.
“In case the cause of action for the EC’s ‘Red Card’ is due to the permanent injunction issued by the RTC, which issue is now pending before the Supreme Court, does the EC find itself above and beyond the judicial processes of country as enshrined in our Constitution?” the APFFI asked.
“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,” the group told the Chief Executive.
The APFFI also informed the President of its continued strong opposition to FAO 266, warning that its implementation could “wipe out the commercial fishing industry affecting food security as well as employment.”
“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 warned.
In its ruling, the RTC also found irregular that the BFAR entered into a VMS project prior to the issuance of the regulation.
Its finding of irregularity on BFAR’s deal with British firm SRT Marine Systems Solutions Ltd. may also have some sound basis as a criminal complaint for graft and violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against key BFAR officials who played an active role in the bidding and awarding of the P2-billion VMS contract to SRT in 2018.
The APFFI also informed the President about the details of the June 2, 2023 meeting called by various government offices and agencies to discuss the supposed EU “red card” notice. The federation’s officials were present at the meeting to represent the private sector.
According to APFFI, one of those present at the meeting raised the matter of expiration of the SRT contract on Dec. 4, 2021, to which a government representative stated that the contract would be impliedly extended on account of the pandemic.
However, the APFFI said that a close scrutiny of the Terms of Reference contained in the Invitation to Bid reveals that certain formal processes were required for any extension of the contract.
It also pointed out that the contract’s expiration has implications on the effectivity of the required Performance Security, as well as other material terms in the contract, such as commitment to provide satellite services free-of-charge during the contract period.
Last March 13, the Office of the President issued a memorandum directing the DA and BFAR to hold in abeyance the implementation of FAO 266 nationwide pending the final resolution over its constitutionality by the Supreme Court.
The memo was signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, by authority of the President.
In issuing the memo, Bersamin, the country’s former chief magistrate, cited “supervening events” which compelled the exercise of an abundance of caution on the part of implementing agencies of FAO 266 and the principle of “inter-branch” courtesy among the three branches of government.
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