THE Supreme Court (SC) will resume today, Tuesday, the oral argument on the petition filed by the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), seeking to set aside a 2021 ruling issued by the Regional Trial Court of Malabon City,which declared the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266, unconstitutional.
FAO No. 266 mandates fishing vessels to report their catches through a vessel monitoring system (VMS) and an electronic reporting system (ERS)in order to curbillegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUUF).
The respondents fishing companies—Royal Fishing Corporation, Bonanza Fishing and Market Resources Inc. and RBL Fishing Corporation—through theircounsel, lawyer Arnold D. Naval are expectedto be interpellated by the magistrates on their position that FAO No. 266 is unconstitutional.
The fishing companies argued that information on the fishing grounds of fishing companies constitute trade secrets and the mandatory installation of real-time VMS under FAO 266 violated the fishing companies’ right to privacy and unlawful searches.
He added that FAO 266 violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by regulating only commercial fishing vessels and leaving the regulation of municipal fishing vessels to the discretion of local government units.
Likewise, they maintained that FAO 266 violates the constitutional right against unlawful searches, noting that the constant real-time monitoring facilitated by VMS amounts to an unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusion, conducted without probable cause or judicial authorization.
However, OSGwarned resources in the country’s fishing grounds would continue to decline dueto IUUF if FAO No. 266 is not immediately implemented.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra noted that the value of Philippine exports of fishing products amounting to around $1 billion in 2021hassignificantly declined over the years.
He added the country has a commitment under various treaties and agreements to implement conservation and management measures for the protection of the marine environment and the long-term sustainable use of living marine resources.
Guevarra said the countrystands to lose access to foreign markets for its fish exports if we fail to comply with our obligations under these treaties and agreements.
He said around $320 million worth of fish products bound to Europe every year are in danger of being rejected if the Philippinegovernment fails to certify that such fish products were not caught through IUUF.
Guevarra also denied the claim of the respondents that FAO 266 violated their right to privacy and unreasonable searches.
He said a fishing vessel’sfishing area, fish catches and spoilage, landing points and estimated quantity and value of fish caught have long been required to be recorded and reported to the Bureau of Fisheriesand Aquatic Resources.