MANILA, Philippines – Commercial fishing companies have urged the Supreme Court (SC) to affirm the regional trial court’s ruling that nullified Fisheries Administrative Order (FAO) 266.
The SC is hearing oral arguments on the petitions filed by the government through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and environmental organization Oceana.
FAO 266 is a regulatory measure to implement the Vessel Monitoring System and Electronic Reporting System, which was introduced to comply with the implementation of various conservation and management measures under the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and other International Fisheries Commissions, of which the Philippines is a signatory.
Although the order was issued with the aim of combating illegal fishing, commercial fishing companies believe that the information required to be recorded and reported – such as the position of the vessel where the fish was caught and the date and time of the vessel’s activity – was sensitive information. and some of their trade secrets and proprietary information.
In June 2021, the Malabon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 170 issued a permanent injunction against the implementation of FAO 266, annulling it as unconstitutional.
This is now the subject of petitions filed in the SC by the government and a non-governmental organization, Oceana Philippines, against the three commercial fishing companies.
Fishing companies Royal Fishing Corporation, Bonanza Fishing and Market Resources, Inc. and RBL Fishing Corporation, through their counsel Atty. Arnold D. Naval said the lower court was correct in its ruling as the order violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by regulating only commercial fishing vessels and leaving the regulation of municipal fishing vessels to the discretion of local government units. FAO 266 was also issued without public consultation and without demarcation of municipal waters, which also violated fishing companies’ constitutional right to due process.
The fishing companies alleged that FAO 266 violates a spectrum of their constitutional rights, including privacy, protection against unlawful searches, the equal protection clause, due process and participation in decision-making processes.
“Once BFAR installs the VMS, it will have unfettered power to access sensitive information to monitor the location and activities of the fishing vessels. This violates, among other things, the constitutional rights of commercial fishing companies to privacy and unlawful searches,” he said during the oral argument on Tuesday.
“This special knowledge and skill, together with any sensitive information, forms part of the invaluable intellectual property of a fishing company that is entitled to protection and privileges. Their exposure to unwarranted surveillance and prejudicial disclosure will result in irreparable harm,” Naval said.
Previously, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra argued that declaring the administrative decision unconstitutional has left the government “defenseless against the decline and deterioration of the country’s marine resources and ineffective in enforcing the people’s right to disequilibrium and a helpful ecology . It risks suffering economically from non-compliance with the traceability requirements of the countries to which our fishery products are exported.”
He added that $320 million worth of seafood products going to Europe annually are also at risk of being rejected if the Philippine government fails to confirm that such seafood products were not caught through illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUUF ).
The oral arguments will continue on November 21.