By ERWIN MASCARIÑAS
DEL Carmen, Siargao Island — The local government and non-government organizations have sounded alarm bells over the resurgence of illegal commercial trawl-fishing or “liba-liba” in their waters the past few weeks.
“We first got the report of commercial trawlers on sighted our municipal waters on May 21 and 22 by passengers traveling on a boat from Surigao City to our town of del Carmen. On May 23, we received another report from the area and together with our Bantay Dagat. We confirmed, photographed, and took videos of the trawlers,” said Gina Barquilla, municipal environmental resources officer.
Barquilla said they are alarmed since they have to deal with as many as three trawlers sighted on May 24 up to May 26.
Omnia Olama, officer-in-charge of Fisheries Management Regulatory Enforcement Division of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, explained that their office immediately investigated the report but was not able to apprehend the illegal commercial trawlers.
“Our Fishery Protection and Law Enforcement Group under FMRED, traveled from Surigao City to del Carmen to respond and investigate the report on May 24 but unfortunately our team did not catch the perpetrators,” said Olama.
Olama said the team immediately returned to Surigao City as the boat was only cleared for a one-day operation.
Olama explained that the first responder should fall to the task of the local government as they have primary jurisdiction towards the protection and conservation of all activities within the municipal waters as provided in Republic Act 10654. This same provision, Olama added, is also reiterated in the memorandum circular 2018-59 of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Alfredo Coro II, mayor of del Carmen, explained the need of having the support of BFAR and the Philippine National Police-Maritime unit.
“The current illegal commercial fishers in our municipal waters are armed and dangerous which is already beyond the capability and capacity of del Carmen and our Bantay Dagat team,” said Coro.
Coro said they have requested support from national government agencies to help the town stop illegal commercial fishing in their waters, especially in the area of Halian Island.
Lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines, said commercial fishing operators have been emboldened because they know that local governments lack vessels and monitoring system to track them.
“Our studies in Karagatan Patrol through the lights detected from Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite showed the pervasive presence of illegal commercial fishing vessels in municipal waters. We call on law enforcement agencies to intensify their efforts to arrest and file cases against these illegal fishing operators since they have the mandate and assets to do so. Monitoring, control and surveillance mechanisms all over the country should be strengthened or we will have no more fish to feed our families despite being an archipelagic country,” said Ramos.
Sentro Para sa Ika Uulad ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya (Sikat), one of the NGOs working in del Carmen expressed concerns in the return of illegal commercial fishing in the municipal waters.
“We are concerned and alarmed over this recent incident, it has always been our stand that it should be the small fisherfolk in the town who should benefit in the marine resources and not the large commercial fishing boats,” said Wendie Entendez, field manager of Sikat Inc. Siargao field office.
During the last quarter of 2012, Sikat helped in the reorganization of the town’s Bantay Dagat.
From 2013 to 2016, Bantay Dagat recorded a 100-percent threat reduction on the encroachment of commercial fishing vessels such as the Liba-liba; 90 percent threat reduced on mangrove cutting, and 70 percent threat reduced on dynamite fishing.
In 2015, several operations led by Bantay Dagat volunteers ended in a tense confrontation with Liba-liba fishing vessels that are not from Del Carmen. This led to threats as those on the vessels showed off their firearms as the volunteers tried to impose their mandated tasks.
Other forms of illegal fishing operations in the area such as with the use of cyanide on compressor fishing and tri-net were also apprehended. Data show that in 2015, the town’s Bantay Dagat volunteers apprehended 35 individuals while in 2016, the apprehension rose to 67 suspects in just nine months. Unfortunately, these led to threats and incidents of harassments and attack.
Del Carmen is considered to be the town with the largest continuous mangrove stand in the country with an estimated 4,000 hectares as of 2014. Of the 54 mangrove species worldwide, 44 can be found in del Carmen. Siargao has approximately 8,600 hectares of mangrove cover which is the second largest in Mindanao.