The cost of fish could soar to “astronomical” levels should a controversial regulatory measure targeting commercial fishing operators is implemented, an industry leader has warned.
Roderic “Jon” Santos, director at Inter-Island and Deep Sea Fishing Association (ISDFA), was referring to Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266 issued in 2020 by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), requiring all commercial fishing operators to install a vessel monitoring system (VMS) so that they can be tracked and for them to report their catch.
FAO 266 “is strongly opposed by the fishing industry, was declared null and void by a trial court for being unconstitutional, and its implementation was suspended by the Office of the President pending decision by the Supreme Court on its constitutionality.”
According to Santos, the implementation of FAO 266 has “dire consequences,” especially on government efforts to achieve food security in the country.
Santos warned that food security could be under threat and consumers exposed to “price shock” if BFAR will insist on enforcing FAO 266.
“Relatively, the entire local fishing industry is against FAO 266. No commercial fishing vessel will continue to operate if this unconstitutional regulatory measure is enforced,” he said.
“It will see many, if not all, commercial fishers not going to the sea and this will mean a shortage of fish,” Santos said. “A shortage of fish will, of course, cause an increase in prices.”
Santos echoed the sentiments of the Alliance of Philippine Fishing Federations Inc. (APFFI), the umbrella organization of various commercial fishing associations nationwide.
In its letter to President and Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Ferdinand Marcos Jr., APFFI warned that the implementation of FAO 266 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 cautioned.
In June 2021, the Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 170 issued a permanent injunction against the implementation of FAO 266, declaring it as null and void for being unconstitutional.
The RTC sided with the petitioners, which are domestic corporations engaged in commercial deep-sea fishing in Philippine waters.
The petitioners argued that the issuance of FAO 266 violated their constitutional rights to privacy and against unlawful searches, and that it violates the equal protection clause and the law it seeks to implement.
They also contended that the administrative order violated their constitutional rights to due process and to participate in the decision-making process and that the implementation of FAO 266 is premature.
The petitioners asserted that information to be recorded and reported via Electronic Reporting System, like position of the vessel where the fish was caught, date and time and vessel activity, are sensitive information and part of their trade secrets and proprietary information.
They likewise lamented that requiring commercial fishing vessels to be equipped with VMS violates their constitutional right against unlawful searches.
Last March, 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, a former chief justice, 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.