The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is under fire for allegedly failing to file criminal cases against 70 fishermen who were recently apprehended for using banned compressors in the waters off Roxas municipality.
It is also being criticized for releasing the vessels to their owner who signed undertaking affidavits that state they will not use them to fish and will not alter or repaint them.
The fishermen were the crew of five fishing vessels that were held under custody on November 22 by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and a BFAR patrol and monitoring boat for a number of violations, including the absence of certificates of registry, safety certificates, and expired seafarer’s identification books.
BFAR local chief Mario Basaya said they did not file the criminal charges against the 70 fishermen out of pity since they are fellow Palaweños. However, he said administrative charges have already been filed against them.
“Noong nahuli ‘yan pumunta sila sa amin sa office at naki-usap na ‘wag na kasuhan ng criminal cases, pero nakasuhan namin ng administrative cases. Dahil Palaweño ay kinonsider natin, open naman tayo sa pagbabago at nangako naman sila na maghahanap-buhay sila ng legal,” Basaya said.
Basaya also said the decision not to file criminal charges against the fishermen has the knowledge and approval of BFAR regional director Elizer Salilig.
He said the confiscated fishing boats are currently in the custody of the owner and will be presented to authorities during the administrative hearing.
“Hindi naman tayo nagde-desisyon ng tayo lang, alam po ‘yan sa region. Binibigyan lang natin ng pagkakataon na mag-bagong buhay ang mga tao, inamin naman nila ang pagkakamali nila. May referral kami sa regional director at abogado. Then, since wala kaming docking area ay ibinigay muna namin sa custody nila at kapag hinanap para sa admin hearing ay ipre-present nila,” Basaya said.
Last week, five fishing boats with a total of 70 crew members and five fishing boats were apprehended in two separate operations against illegal fishing.
Apprehended on November 21 were fishing boats Delilah-2 with 20 crew and FB Aries with 20 crew on the next day in Constancia shoal.
On November 22, three more were apprehended — Dwight with nine crew, Prince Jariel nine and Narcissa 888 with 12 crew in the vicinity of Pasig shoal.
Commander Jerome Jeciel of the apprehending vessel said aside from illegal fishing, the crewmen of the boats were also unable to show safety certificates and certificates of registry and ownership.
Skippers also have expired seafarer’s identification books.
Jeciel said they sighted the fishing vessels in the area while conducting patrol en route to town.
“En route to Roxas, we sighted the fishing boats in Consolacion shoal kung saan ay mababaw lang at doon sila madalas pumipuwesto. Isa sa mga violation nila ‘yong walang kaukulang dokumento at ang paggamit ng compressor na alam natin na mahigpit na ipinagbabawal dito,” Jeciel said.The apprehended vessels were towed by the DA-BFAR MCS 3009 manned by PCG personnel on November 22 at the port of Puerto Princesa.
Meanwhile, Palawan News tried to get the side of BFAR MIMAROPA but it has not yet responded.