SEN. Panfilo Lacson raised a red flag on Wednesday warning of the Agriculture Department’s decision to import 60,000 metric tons of small pelagic fish based on claims that local supply has “not yet been normalized” after the devastation caused by typhoon “Odette” (international code name Rai). “With its decision to import some 60,000 metric tons [MT] fish like galunggong and mackerel, the Department of Agriculture may well ‘kill’ our fishermen,” Lacson warned.
Denouncing the move, Lacson questioned the need to import fish “when our waters abound in such natural resources”.
In a related development, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said that instead of importing more fish to cope with the reported shortage and high prices of fish in the market, the government should lift the current fishing ban in the country.
The group released the statement as they also rejected the import of DA fish. According to Pamalakaya, flooding the market with imported fish “will drive down farm gate fish prices, forcing small-scale fishers into deep crisis and bankruptcy”.
“Flooding our local markets with imported fish will do more harm than good to our struggling fishing industry. This liberalization program never solves the country’s fish production crisis. Rather, it is a burden on local fishermen whose fish products are supplanted by imported fish,” said Fernando Hicap, national president of Pamalakaya in a statement.
In a post on his Twitter account, Lacson chastised the DA officials behind the decision: “Import pa more! After killing our farmers by importing vegetables and fruits, it is our fishermen’s turn to die,” he said. on his Twitter account on Wednesday.
In a press release, Lacson clarified that he was referring to the DA’s announced decision to import 60,000 metric tons of small pelagic fish “supposedly because local supply has not yet been standardized to the following the devastation wrought by Typhoon Odette,” noting that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has predicted a fish shortage of 119,000 MT in the first quarter of 2022.
“Worse still, the DA has a history of allowing potential corruption in the importation of agricultural products such as pork, poultry, and fish and seafood products,” Lacson said, recalling that in April 2021, data obtained from his office indicated that “the Philippines lost over 1 billion pesos per year in lost revenue from 2015 to 2020, just for imported fish and seafood.
In addition, the senator questioned the huge discrepancies between World Trade Organization and Philippine Statistics Authority records in terms of fish and seafood imports from the top 15 exporting countries from 2015 to 2020.
“If corruption infects the Department of Agriculture, it should be at the forefront of food safety efforts,” the senator said, noting that “it is beyond human conscience.”
It will be recalled that Lacson had earlier taken the cudgel to Filipino farmers threatened by the import of agricultural products, saying that “we are able to produce – like strawberries and carrots”.
“Farmers’ concern is not just the influx of contraband agricultural products,” the senator said. “They are also concerned about agricultural pests that manage to evade inspection by our authorities,” he said, recalling a Senate hearing on agricultural contraband last December.
At the same time, Lacson said “it is appalling that the Philippines has to import galunggong from China whose vessels intimidated our fishermen in the Western Philippine Sea”, lamenting that “due to incursions by Chinese vessels, we are refuses 300,000 metric tons”. of fish… If you divide 30 million kilos of fish by 40 kilos, that would translate to 7.5 million Filipino families having to buy fish from sources other than the Philippines. This is unacceptable,” he stressed.
The Department of Agriculture’s (DA) plan to import 60,000 metric tons reflects both the department’s “lack of planning and years of neglect” that have characterized the plight of fishermen, a vice president said Wednesday. from the room.
In a press release, Vice President Rodante Marcoleta said using Typhoon Odette as an excuse only exposes the department’s institutional weaknesses to rehabilitate the fishing industry as an important component of the agricultural sector, which in itself has suffered negative growth over the years.
“With about 20 typhoons that ravage the country each year – six to seven of them are powerful – the DA must already have in place a permanent support mechanism that helps fishermen to repair their boats and fishing equipment after each typhoon. It’s not hard to do considering that DA’s average annual budget utilization is only about 60%,” he added.
“It can even replicate what Vietnam does most today to subsidize its fishermen: provide them with 12 horsepower locally-made diesel engines,” he added.
With Jovee Marie N. Dela Cruz