Following the arrest of 10 fishermen from Cabugao last month, five more from Carorian in Bato town are now soliciting assistance for their bail once a warrant of arrest is issued for their apprehension for a similar offense.
Provincial Board Member Lorenzo Templonuevo Jr. told the Tribune that the arrest warrant is expected to be issued this week by the 1st Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Bato-San Miguel in connection with the criminal case filed against the five Carorian residents for violation of Sec. 90 of Republic Act 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code as amended by Sec. 95 of RA 10654.
It may be recalled that last year, the fishermen – Perfecto Bernal, Joseph Valenzuela, Julito Camacho, Terry Timajo and Julito Templonuevo – sought the assistance of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan through PBM Templonuevo after they were apprehended by Bato police officers on Oct. 4, 2020 for allegedly catching fish using fine mesh nets as active fishing gear.
Claiming that they did not violate the law and that their arrest was illegitimate, irregular and unlawful, the five told a subsequent hearing of the SP Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries that the “pangki” net they were using them had holes big enough to comply with an existing municipal ordinance governing fishing within Cabugao Bay and adjoining areas within Bato.
Ironically, the fishing net was donated to the Carorian residents by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) as part of the government’s support for marginal fishermen in Catanduanes, a source claimed.
During the SP committee hearing chaired by PBM Templonuevo, then Bato police officer-in-charge Capt. Ariel Buraga said that they received a report on the illegal fishing from the Carorian barangay captain and that they just responded to the call, with barangay officials present during the apprehension as the complainants.
None of the barangay officials who reported the alleged illegal fishing and witnessed the apprehension were present during the hearing.
It was also discovered that the barangay council has passed an ordinance banning fishing within its territory, but Councilor Francisco Toledana disclosed that the Sangguniang Bayan sent back the barangay ordinance as it was illegal.
It was earlier explained by BFAR provincial fishery officer Jorge Camacho that only the municipal government has the power to conserve, protect and utilize all fishery resources within the municipal waters.
“There’s no such thing as a barangay fishery ordinance,” he said, as barangays cannot put limits on fishing in municipal waters.
A representative of the Municipal Agriculture Office revealed that, just to be sure, they checked the fishing net seized as evidence and found that it did not violate the law or municipal ordinance as to the size of the holes and had a mayor’s permit.
It was also pointed out during the hearing that the BFAR should file the complaint if the fishermen is in violation of RA 8550 but it should be the LGU as complainant if the municipal fishery law has been violated.
The Bato police insisted that the “sadsad” or the practice of dragging a gill net from the deep portion of the sea to the shoreline is in violation of law and that they are master fishermen as certified by the BFAR regional office after consultation.
Sec. 95 of RA 10654 penalizing the use of active gear in municipal waters, however, specifically identifies those liable for the violation as the owner, operator, boat captain and master fisherman of the vessel, or the chief executive officer in a corporation, or the managing partner in a partnership.
The SP members stressed that neither of the five respondents fall in the definition of the violators since they are not the owners of the seized fishing vessel.
“We are in a pandemic,” they said. “Kapag file tayo ng file ng kaso, lalong maghihirap ang mga tao kasi kumpiskado ang mga fishing net. What will happen to our fishermen kung walang makain, walang mga trabaho?”
The BFAR also underscored that the provision on the use of active gear pertains only to commercial vessels and that the wooden banca used by the Carorian fishermen are not commercial in nature.
Recognizing the fact that Cabugao bay is home to delicacies such as “dilis” and “silag” which cannot be caught by legal fishing nets 3 cm or larger, PBM Templonuevo proposed that the existing municipal fishery ordinance be amended to allow the catching of such small fishes in Cabugao bay using fine-mesh nets only during a very limited period of time when they are abundant.
The municipal agriculture office, however, said the use of such nets to catch “dilis” cannot guarantee that only small fishes will be caught, noting that since fine-mesh nets were banned in Cabugao bay, the fish population has increased that even fishermen from Virac are fishing in Bato municipal waters.
In an interview with the Tribune, Cabugao barangay officials backed the idea of revising the municipal fishery ordinance to legalize the use of fine-mesh nets for the catching of “dilis” and other small fishes.
The barangay council headed by Chairman Nenita Taraya had written the BFAR regional office on the matter after 10 of their constituents were arrested by police officers for catching fish using fine mesh nets as active fishing gear in the bay at 1:30 P.M. of Sept. 15, 2020.
They confiscated the net with an estimated length of 500 meters as well as 15 kilos of assorted fish valued at P2,500.00.
Last Jan. 18, 2021, the 10 fishermen ranging in age from 34 to 61 were apprehended by the Bato police on the basis of the arrest warrant issued by Judge Francisco Torres Jr. of the 1st Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Bato-San Miguel for violation of Sec. 90 ng RA 8550 as amended by Sec. 95 of RA 10654.
The accused were released after posting bail for their temporary liberty during the trial of the case.