Middle ground sought on WPS fishing rights




By Rose de la Cruz


While agreeing with senior Justice Antonio Carpio on the need to protect the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea, Ako Bicol partylist Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. sought a workable ‘middle ground’ on the disputed waters.


There may be some workable middle ground among the divergent views on fishing and maritime passage in exclusive economic zone waters off the western coasts of the Philippines, he said.


"There is a need to acknowledge the fact that top Philippine officials had verbal agreement with their counterparts in China and Vietnam on allowing their fishermen and fishing vessels to enter our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Those verbal agreements were meant to ease tensions," Garbin said.


"What is important at this stage is to define the parameters and protocols in bilateral or multi-party written agreements and to ascertain what specific actions are allowed and which are not, while keeping in mind that what all parties want is peaceful neighborly relations," Garbin explained.


Garbin also pointed out that fishing rights, maritime access, marine science and environmental protection are "civilian law enforcement matters, not military concerns."


He said he completely agrees with the opinion of Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio that “we need to protect the exclusivity of the Philippines’ marine resources for the enjoyment of Filipinos; I appeal though for a win-win solution given the current tension.”


“Bilang kasapi ng Kongreso, naniniwala akong maaaring pag-usapan nang mahinahon ang isyung ito. Tila hardline stances kasi ang ilan sa mga nakasulat sa UNCLOS na kailangan pa ring ipatupad sa mga aktuwal na sitwasyon doon sa gitna ng dagat,"Garbin said.


"Baka maaaring magkaroon ng common fishing grounds sa labas lang ng ating EEZ at payagan ang foreign fishing ships na makiraan sa ating EEZ patungo sa common fishing grounds?" Garbin posited.


"There is absolutely no need to push sensitive national pride buttons and create animosities. Our countries' fisherfolk have been harvesting from the seas for centuries in peace. Let that continue well into the distant future," he added.


"Our civilian fishing, maritime, and marine science officials can meet their counterparts either in bilateral or multi-party meetings. We could even ask a country in the Middle East or Europe to function as a moderator, if the parties agree to that," the congressman also said.


Garbin acknowledged that there may be a need for common agreement on open and closed fishing seasons to assure long term sustainability of fishing.


"The fishermen of all these countries involved venture further out into the sea because their respective local fishing grounds are getting depleted.  It would be in the interest of all countries concerned to agree on sustainability measures," he said.


"Alam lahat ng mga bansa dito sa rehiyon na kailangan ang sustainability. Kami sa Bicol, marami  sa mga mangingisda namin ang palayo nang palayo ang kanilang pagpapalaot. May iba umaabot pa sa Philippine Rise na kilala sa tawag na Benham Rise," the Bicolano congressman said.


"Sana naman, magbalangkas ng mga programa ang ehekutibo para maging moderno at mas malaki ang fishing boats ng mga Pinoy fishermen. Iyong  mandato ng Office of Transport Cooperatives sa Department of Transportation, palagay ko dapat ma-expand para kasama ang small fishermen sa transport coops modernization," Garbin suggested to Transportation Secretary Art Tugade.