Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary Jose Lorena explained that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, filed as House Bill 4994 in the House of Representatives, provides for Bangsamoro Waters that shall extend up to 22.224 kilometers (12 nautical miles) from the low-water mark of the coasts that are part of the proposed Bangsamoro region. This means that municipal waters, which extend up to 15 kilometers from the coasts, plus an additional of 7.224 kilometres comprise the Bangsamoro Waters.
These waters, being part of the territorial waters of the Philippines, remain to be a resource for all Filipinos, with preferential rights given to the Bangsamoro people, other indigenous peoples in adjoining provinces and resident fishers in the Bangsamoro area over fishery, aquamarine, and other living resources in the Zones of Joint Cooperation as provided for in the Constitution.
Mr Lorena issued the clarification in response to concerns of tuna fishing operators in this city, dubbed as the country’s tuna capital, on whether they would be allowed to fish within the additional seven kilometers of the Bangsamoro Waters. They asked about regulatory procedures that would have to be followed if the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be enacted. Similar questions were earlier raised by sardine operators in the Zamboanga Peninsula region.
According to Mr Lorena, fishing groups will simply have to secure an operating permit from the Bangsamoro region on top of other requirements, just like they would do to comply with similar regulations.
Mr Lorena said the measure is meant to create a “buffer area” to ensure that no conflict would arise between big commercial fishing operators and local fishermen.
“This is a balance to protect all fishermen and to give them equal opportunity to earn their keep, whether they are commercial or sustenance fishermen. This is not a unilateral decision. This is a product of negotiations,” he told stakeholders during a public hearing of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL held here recently.
A joint body for the zones of joint cooperation
Commissioner Raissa Jajurie of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission–a body that was mandated by President Benigno S. Aquino III to draft the Bangsamoro bill–said that a joint body composed of national agencies, the Bangsamoro government, and the private sector, will be created to ensure coordination of various government bodies within the zones of joint cooperation.
“There is a paragraph that says the joint body may also invite private sector representatives when necessary,” she said.
According to her, the rationale behind creating such Bangsamoro waters is to recognise the valid historical claim of the Bangsamoro people.
Mr Lorena said there has been a lack of conservation efforts in Bangsamoro-dominated coastal areas, so fishing activities have not been sustainable and local fishing areas have suffered from overfishing.
“I would like to cite an example. There used to be a progressive boat-making industry in my hometown. Our people were traditional fishers. But the catch has dwindled where large shipping vehicles have encroached on the fishing areas of Simunul and Sibutu, resulting in the death of the boat-making industry in those towns," he said.
“So I think there should be a balance. I know our big fishers are also conscious of their social responsibility to help and protect their brothers, the sustenance fishers. So there should be buffer zones that will help protect the source of livelihood of sustenance fishers," Mr Lorena added.