Senate eyes increasing BFAR's regulatory, law enforcement budget

By Wilnard Bacelonia

October 17, 2023, 1:36 pm

<p>The Philippine Senate building <em>(PNA file photo by Avito Dalan)</em> </p>

The Philippine Senate building (PNA file photo by Avito Dalan) 

MANILA – Senators are determined to support the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in its fight against illegal activities in the fishing industry by increasing its budget.

Citing BFAR's "critical" role in the government's fight against smuggling, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III likened the bureau to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) especially in maintaining peace and securing in the country's exclusive economic zone.

"Congratulations to the BFAR kasi (because) you're one of those na in a postive light nababanggit eh (being mentioned) - Philippine Coast Guard, BFAR. So, be aware of your very critical role hindi lang sa mandate ninyo (not only in your mandate), but itong even sa ating (but also in our) exclusive economic zone," Pimentel said during the budget hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance, Submittee “B” chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar.

"I hope you are now aware that policy makers or here in the Senate, at least, we know and appreciate the critical nature of your agency," the lawmaker said.

Under the 2024 national budget, BFAR's Fisheries Regulatory and Law Enforcement Program was allotted PHP2.948 billion.

BFAR director Demosthenes Escoto said the program is divided into components that include: Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance; Quality Control Inspection; Quarantine Registration and Licensing; Coastal and Inland Fisheries Resource Management; and some foreign-assisted sub-programs.

"First, we have the first border inspectors that are deployed in all ports of entry of fish and fishery products. Second, we have deployed second border inspectors in all the cold storages where the fish and fishery products are deposited and which are registered to BFAR," Escoto told senators.

"We also have a law enforcement team that is assisting the DA Inspectorate in law enforcement," he added.

Escoto said BFAR vessels are also being used with the PCG in regular patrolling in coastal areas and as far as the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Senator JV Ejercito is also calling for an additional budget to the BFAR's re-fleeting program, stressing the importance of protecting and supporting the needs of Filipino fisherfolk in the WPS.

“I think it is very important. We cannot just let the militia vessels of China take advantage of our exclusive economic zone. I think our fishermen should be the ones taking advantage of the vast marine resources in the West Philippine Sea,” Ejercito said.

BFAR currently has four multi-mission vessels and 14 monitoring, control and surveillance patrol vessels being used to supply food, gasoline and rescue fishermen in time of calamities and other untoward incidents.

The bureau is proposing to spend a total of PHP7.871 billion in 2024. (PNA)