Tuna industry wants unhampered operations in Bangsamoro waters

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 23 Sept) – Tuna industry players here urged Congress to ensure that tuna fishing activities in the seas off western Mindanao and the nearby areas will not be hampered once the proposed Bangsamoro region would be established.

Joaquin Lu, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc., said the Senate and the House of Representatives should set some mechanisms that will guarantee the safe and free passage of fishing vessels in fishery areas that would be covered by Bangsamoro waters.

He said such arrangement should be included in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is now known as House Bill (HB) 4994.

“The Bangsamoro waters, as part of the territorial waters of the Philippines, (should) remain available to all Filipino citizens for fishing subject to the regulation by the Bangsamoro government and the respective local governments with respect to their municipal waters,” he said.

The House of Representatives referred HB 4994 on Monday last week to the newly-created ad hoc committee on the Bangsamoro, which is chaired by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

The establishment of the Bangsamoro region is the key feature of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the final peace deal between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The Bangsamoro region will be entrenched with the passage of the BBL and its ratification by the constituents in the proposed territory.

Under the CAB, the new Bangsamoro government will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The CAB contains the annexes on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, Power Sharing, Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, and Normalization.

Lu noted that an addendum on Bangsamoro Waters and Zones of Joint Cooperation to the annexes on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, and Power Sharing provided that the Bangsamoro waters shall extend up to 22.224 kilometers (12 nautical miles) from the low-water mark of the coasts that are part of the Bangsamoro political entity.

Municipal waters extend up to 15 kilometers from the coasts. Municipal waters are therefore part of the Bangsamoro waters.

“Zones of Joint Cooperation will be created for the purposes of protection of traditional fishing grounds, creation of opportunities to benefit from the resources, and interconnectivity of the islands and the mainland parts for the free movement of vessels, goods, and people,” he said, citing a briefer released by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

OPAPP said the Zones of Joint Cooperation are the bodies of water, particularly the Sulu Sea and the Moro Gulf, which are also within the territorial sea of the Philippines and are not part of the Bangsamoro territory.

In these areas, the Bangsamoro government and the central government shall cooperate on matters such as fisheries and marine development, environmental protection, and enhancement of the movement of vessels, goods, and people, it said.

The OPAPP said the cooperation and coordination between the central government and the Bangsamoro Government within the Zones of Joint Cooperation shall be maintained through the joint body and the other intergovernmental relations mechanisms.

Lu said the BBL should provide the details on how to operationalize the exercise of joint cooperation between the central government and the Bangsamoro government within the Zones of Joint Cooperation.

He added that they fully support the passage and enactment of the BBL but it should “ensure the safe and free passage of fishing vessels going through the Zones of Joint Cooperation in the Sulu and the Moro Gulf.”