The Supreme Court will resume today the oral arguments on the petition that declared the Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) No. 266 unconstitutional.
The government filed the petition through the Office of the Solicitor General, seeking to set aside the 2021 ruling issued by the Malabon City Regional Trial Court against FAO No. 266.
Led by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, magistrates are expected to grill the respondent fishing companies — Royal Fishing Corp., Bonanza Fishing and Market Resources, Inc. and RBL Fishing Corp. — through their counsel, lawyer Arnold D. Naval on their position that FAO No. 266 is unconstitutional.
FAO. No. 266 mandates fishing vessels to report their catches through a vessel monitoring system (VMS) and an electronic reporting system (ERS) to curb illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing (IUUF).
The fishing companies asserted that information on the fishing grounds of fishing companies constitute trade secrets and the mandatory installation of real-time Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) under FAO 266 violated the fishing companies’ right to privacy and unlawful searches.
The respondents said 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.
They also 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.
But the OSG warned that resources in the country’s fishing grounds would continue to decline due to IUUF if FAO No. 266 is not immediately implemented.
Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra noted that the value of Philippine exports of fishing products amounted to around US$1 billion (P54 billion) in 2021 has significantly declined over the years.
Guevarra also noted that the country has a commitment under various treaties and agreements to adopt conservation and management measures for the protection of the marine environment and the long-term sustainable use of living marine resources.
The Solicitor General stressed that the country stands 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 US$320 million (P17.18 billion) worth of fish products bound to Europe every year are in danger of being rejected if the Philippine government 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.
The Solicitor General said a fishing vessel’s fishing 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 Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).