This is the press statement of Akbayan.
Coinciding with the observance of the national fisherfolks’ day, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros today challenged the Aquino government to “pull out all the stops” necessary to protect the country’s dwindling marine resources.
Hontiveros made the statement in response to reports that poachers decimated a coral reef system in Southern Mindanao estimated to be five times the size of Metro Manila.
The Bureau of Customs seized more than P 20 million worth of black corals and other endangered species believed to be sourced from the said reef system. Another shipment of black corals was also seized in the Port of Cebu. It was reported that more than 21,000 seashells and black corals were illegally harvested along with 161 sea turtles.
“The destruction of our coral reef is revolting. It is a monstrous crime. It is too awful for words,” Hontiveros said.
“Nip in the bud”
Hontiveros, who is also a certified diver, said while she commends the customs bureau for stopping the shipment, asserted that the government must also take note of the fact that the said corals and other species were already harvested. She said the government must “nip in the bud” said illegal activity.
“There is really a need to step up the enforcement of our laws and the policing of our marine resources. Huwag na nating hayaan na umabot pa ang ating mga yamang dagat sa pier. Dahil kahit masawata natin ang kontrabando, talo pa rin tayo dahil nawasak na ang ating kalikasan,” Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros said Department of Environment and National Resources (DENR) must take the lead in this campaign.
“The DENR must be resolute on this matter. They must show that they are on top of the matter. Kailangan managot ang mga may sala. They must make the poachers pay and not profit.”
Review of the Fisheries Code
Hontiveros also called for a comprehensive review of the Philippine Fisheries Code. She said stiffer penalties must be imposed on poachers.
“It is just ridiculous that the trade of these endangered marine species would only cost the violator 20,000 pesos, more or less the price of an IPod music player. This is practically loose change to these big-time poachers.”
However, Hontiveros was quick to qualify her call for a comprehensive appraisal of the Fisheries Code.
“We also have to be mindful of the kind of review we ought to do with the Fisheries Code. It really has to be in the context of increasing protection for our marine resources and putting heavier penalties for violators while ensuring the livelihood of our small fishermen,” said Hontiveros.
The Akbayan stalwart made the statement in reaction to the fear expressed by many fisherfolk groups that there are “some quarters” calling for the amendment of the code to benefit big-time commercial fishing industries.
“We will not let this happen. The fisheries Code will remain rooted to the ordinary fisherman’s interest while providing it more teeth to combat large-scale environmental crimes,” Hontiveros concluded.
The Cotabato reef system is estimated to be around 7,000 hectares and forms part of the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia, which stretches from northern Philippines down to northern Australia and extends east to the seas off the coast of Papua New Guinea. This area is home to more than 2/3 of the World’s coral species. It is also one of the most endangered by overfishing and poaching. ###