General Santos City - Stakeholders here are pushing anew the long-sought conversion of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to a cabinet department to make its operations fit to the archipelagic condition of the country and bring subsistent fishermen apace with developed sectors of the society.
Fishing Filipino families, constituting the country's largest albeit unorganized sector, are hoping that candidates in the upcoming elections, especially those seeking seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives, would finally "realize" this disproportionate BFAR setup.
"No candidate yet has mentioned any plan or commitment for the plight of fishermen in the almost ending election campaigns," fisherman Alexis Baylon of Sarangani said in vernacular.
Baylon said that the fishery sector has some four million voting force.
In his recent visit here, BFAR National Director Asis Perez said they would put up a strong lobby in the upcoming 16th Congress for the passage of a law that would transform the bureau into a separate executive department.
Perez, a lawyer, said they have been working with fisheries-based industry groups to make a big push for the passage by the Senate and the House of Representatives of an enabling law, which had failed to take off in the 15th Congress.
"We're reviewing it and we'll have it re-filed immediately in the next congress," said the BFAR official, who vowed to personally lead the drive for the creation of a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
He said such move is backed by Secretary Proceso Alcala of the Department of Agriculture (DA), which is BFAR's mother unit, and several national officials.
"BFAR's coverage covers the country's entire water resources but we're operating as a bureau attached to DA," he said.
BFAR has about 1,000 personnel, each having a ratio of 1,188-hectare coasts to serve, he said, stressing that the bureau could barely deal with its adopted 50,000-hectare areas covered under a Fisheries Lease Agreement (FLA) due to the lack of manpower.
Senator Manuel Villar Jr. had filed a bill creating a separate department for BFAR. In the House, four different counterparts had been proposed by Representatives Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga, Luis Villafuerte of Camarines, Arthur Yap of Bohol and Lorenzo Tanada of Quezon.
BFAR, which has a budget of P3.655 billion for this year, covers fishery areas situated within the country's total territorial water of 171 million hectares or 2,200,000 square kilometers.
It covers a shelf area of 184,600 sq. km., coral reef area of 27,000 sq. km., coastlines of 36,289 km. and inland water resources of around 750,000 hectares.