MANILA — Palawan 3rd District Rep. Edward Hagedorn on Wednesday defended his bill seeking to declare parts of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as a marine protected area, saying that it only seeks to protect the welfare of local fishermen.
In an interview with ABS-CBN TeleRadyo, Hagedorn said that local fishermen will still be allowed in parts of the WPS that would be declared as protected area, but with regulations.
"Actually ho, maski sa mga protected areas, allowed naman iyong mga fishermen na mag-fishing. Kaya lang, susunod sa mga alituntunin po. Kailangan talaga hindi iyong destructive form of fishing. Hindi unregulated, at hindi rin unregistered iyong mga bangka," he said.
(Actually, even in protected areas, our fishermen would be allowed to fish, but they would have to follow the rules, like not resorting to destructive fishing. And they must also not be unregulated, and their boats must not be unregistered.)
Hagedorn was reacting to a statement from the group Pamalakaya which blasted his proposed measure, saying that it might only hurt small fishers.
"Kung ipapatupad ‘to, ang direktang tatamaan dito na pagbabawalan ay yung mga maliliit na mangingisda, habang hindi naman nangingisda [dito] yung mga commercial fishing vessel," Pamalakaya President Fernando Hicap said.
(If this is implemented, small-scale fishermen will be directly affected because commercial fishing vessels don't reach that part.)
But Hagedorn countered Pamalakaya's claims, noting that the local government of Kalayaan town in Palawan had passed a resolution in support of the bill.
The bill would also enable local governments near the WPS to enforce marine protection laws by giving them funds and equipment, particularly for Bantay Dagat.
Hagedorn clarified that the bill is not focused on territorial disputes, noting that during his time as mayor of Puerto Princesa, it was usually the local fishermen that were reportedly illegally fishing.
"Ang sumira ng aming local reefs, iyong local fishermen. Nakakapasok iyong ibang local fishermen natin na gumagamit ng mga ilegal na facilities, kagaya po ng muro-ami, nagsa-cyanide din eh. Bakit di mahuli? Kasi wala silang sapat na pondo at gamit para maprotektahan iyong kanilang kapaligiran," he said.
(It was the local fishermen that destroyed our coral reefs, and were using illegal fishing methods like muro-ami and cyanide fishing. Why weren't they caught? Because the local ogvernments don't have enough funds to protect their seas.)
"Itong ating teritoryo, within the Exclusive Economic Zone, napakahalaga na nabibigyan ng batas para iyon ding mga local officials doon na humahawak ng gobyerno diyan sa Kalayaan Group of Islands, eh magkaroon din talaga ng basehan kung bakit dapat ipagbawal ang illegal fishing doon o destruction ng ating coral reefs," Hagedorn added.
(It is important that our territory, especially within the Exclusive Economic Zone, must be protected by laws that our local officials in Kalayaan can use as basis to apprehend those who illegally fish and destroy our coral reefs.)
The WPS is part of the South China Sea which China continues to claim in its near entirety despite a 2016 arbitration ruling invalidating its basis.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have competing claims in parts of the South China Sea.