Creation of Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources pushed

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 12 March) – Fisheries stakeholders will put up a strong lobby in the upcoming 16th Congress for the passage of a law that would transform the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) into a separate executive department.

Lawyer Asis Perez, BFAR national director, said they are currently working with various fisheries-based industry groups in a bid to make a big push for the passage by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the proposed law, which had failed to take off in the 15th Congress.

“We’re reviewing it right now and we’ll have it re-filed immediately in the next congress,” he said.

Perez said he will personally lead the lobby group that would be later set up for the proposed measure, which would pave the way for the creation of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

He said such move is backed by Secretary Proceso Alcala of the Department of Agriculture (DA), which is BFAR’s mother unit, and several national officials.

The official said the conversion of BFAR into a department was among the key initiatives adopted by the agency for this year under its organizational development component.

“BFAR’s coverage covers the country’s entire water resources but we’re operating as a bureau attached to DA,” he said.

With the agency’s current employee or personnel strength pegged at about 1,000, Perez said they have at least one assigned employee per six islands or one employee for every 1,188 hectares of the total coastal area that it covers.

He said BFAR could barely deal with its adopted 50,000 hectares of fishery areas covered by a Fisheries Lease Agreement (FLA) due to the lack of manpower.

Perez said he had faced some difficulty in some of the past international fishery negotiations as his counterparts were either ministers or holding key high-level positions in their governments.

“We need to have a strong management and more people to man the bureau. That could be resolved through its conversion into a department,” Perez said.

Senator Manuel Villar Jr. earlier filed a bill in the Senate for the creation of a separate department for BFAR.

Four different versions on the proposal were filed in the House of Representatives by Representatives Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga, Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Arthur Yap of Bohol and Lorenzo Tanada of Quezon.

The bureau, which has an operational budget of P3.655 billion for this year, covers fishery areas situated within the country’s total territorial water area of 171 million hectares or 2,200,000 square kilometers (sq. km.).

It covers a shelf area of 184,600 sq. km., coral reef area of 27,000 sq. km., coastlines of 36,289 km. and inland water resources of around 750,000 hectares.

Tuna industry players here, through the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc. (SFFAII), earlier passed a resolution urging Congress to fast track the passage of the law creating a separate department for BFAR and for President Benigno S. Aquino III to certify it as urgent.

Joaquin Lu, SFFAII president, said they had been supporting the conversion of BFAR into a department “as there is a need to give more attention and priority to the fishery sector.

He noted that the Philippine fishing industry has been contributing significantly into the country’s economy yet the sector remains under the jurisdiction of an agency with a bureau level unlike other major economic and service sectors of the country. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)