The Makabayan Bloc has filed a resolution asking the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Food to investigate, in aid of legislation, the impact of the importation of round scad fish or “galunggong” on the livelihood and economic status of fishermen.
The resolution was introduced by Bayan Muna Reps. Eufemia Cullamat, Carlos Zarate and Ferdinand Gaite, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Jane Elago.
At the same time, Senator Imee Marcos called out the Department of Agriculture for conjuring a “fake shortage” to justify the importation of 60,000 metric tons of fish.
Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, asserted there was ample supply of fish for the first quarter of the year and that importation would only deal a fatal blow to local fisheries.
“Stop this rampant importation that will kill our local fisheries,” Marcos said.
“We have enough fish from stocks unsold in 2021 and yet to be delivered until March. The closed fishing season is also about to end,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the implementation of the closed fishing season could be suspended amid the reported shortage in fish supply, as she questioned the approved importation.
She told a hearing Monday: “If they think Odette affected the fishing industry, they could have temporarily suspended the closed season…
Why didn’t they suspend it?… It seems like they favored the importers over the fisherfolk. That’s why their action looks questionable.)
Villar said fisherfolk groups sought her help to stop the importation.
But she said she advised them to report to President Rodrigo Duterte because DA officials did not listen to her.
The DA claims that the damage wrought by Typhoon Odette to the fishery sector in December demanded the importation of galunggong (round scad), sardines, and mackerel, while the annual fishing ban remains in effect between November and February.
But January 12 data of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – Fisheries Inspection and Quarantine Division show that only 14,349 MT of fish have been sold in the market, out of the 60,000 MT allocated to 25 importers who have applied for 48,985 MT so far.
Thus, almost 35,000 MT of fish in storage and incoming shipments will be available, apart from the 11,015 MT still open for import applications, Marcos pointed out.
Marcos lamented that the DA turned a deaf ear to a unanimous recommendation of the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council that there was “no need for the issuance of a certificate of necessity to import for the first quarter of 2022,” as stated in the council’s Resolution 3, Series of 2022.
The NFARMC is an advisory and recommendatory body that must be consulted by the DA under Section 61 of the Fisheries Code.
The Makabayan resolution followed the Department of Agriculture announcement on Jan. 18 that it approved the importation of 60,000 metric tons of frozen small pelagic fishes like galunggong for local wet markets, to cover the expected shortage in local supply due to the pandemic and typhoons.
In their resolution, the lawmakers noted that the Philippines had been increasingly importing galunggong since 2018.
“Based on government data, the annual importation of galunggong are as follows: 17,000 MT in 2018; 45,000 MT in 2019; 30,000 MT in 2020;
60,000 MT in 2021 and 60,000 for 2022,” they said.
The resolution also pointed out that the retail price of galunggong remained high and unaffordable for consumers, with the price now at
P250-P280/kilogram in markets.
The fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA said the “unreasonable prices of galunggong was mainly caused by the government’s failure to regulate private traders who secure their profits by manipulating and jacking up the wholesale prices of galunggong that eventually pushes up the retail prices at unaffordable levels.”
House Resolution 2467 cited the PAMALAKAYA’s warning that the renewed galunggong importation will further drive down the farmgate prices of fish, and force fishermen into economic crisis and bankruptcy.