Anti-illegal fishing czar

Iloilo 1st district board member Gerardo “Gerry” Flores hit provincial administrator Raul Banias, M.D., in the jugular last Wednesday when he exposed the conflict of interest he had in the illegal fishing issue, especially in the 5th district of Iloilo. Flores told the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that Banias ought to stay away from enforcement of illegal fishing laws, because it won’t look good that he’s one of the biggest fish traders in the province. In fact, Banias is so rich now that he owns three Mang Inasal franchises. That wealth was drawn from the municipal waters of Concepcion, and political power was instrumental in making that happen.

Banias’s own track record shows a poor enforcement of the fisheries laws in his municipality while he was municipal mayor. The operators of prohibited fishing methods like “hulbot-hulbot”, “super-hulbot” and “palupad” were his biggest suppliers of fish products until Governor Niel Tupas Sr. came along to put a stop to their destructive activities. I remember Gov. Tupas conducted a community dialogue in Concepcion sometime in 2002; Tupas had grown frustrated that the LGU, which was supposed to be the chief enforcer of the fisheries code, looked the other way when these vessels operated. Banias put up a stance of passive resistance. He didn’t say he didn’t support Gov. Tupas; but neither did he manifest enthusiasm for the tough stance adopted by the former governor.

Indeed, it was shameless for Banias to tag himself as “anti-illegal fishing czar”. The conflict of interest is very clear. It was like giving the key to heaven to the devil himself. He could do whatever he wanted to enhance his business. He could give illegal fishers wider latitude in carrying out their activities; reports from the island barangays in Concepcion attest to this. In fact, during the period July 1 to December 31, 2010, the apprehension of illegal fishing operators went down dramatically.

So much has been said about the expose supposedly made by Banias on the “kotong” or extortion activities of four policemen in the 5th district. What is not known is that three of these policemen assigned to the Provincial Bantay Dagat were personal picks of Banias. These policemen were subject of complaints from municipal mayors about their extortion activities in the rich seas of the 5th district. The fourth policeman was assigned in Concepcion who was about to be removed by Mayor Milliard Villanueva from the municipal bantay dagat because he, too, was engaging in extortion.

When Banias got wind of the complaints against the three “kotong” cops, he made it appear that they were operating with the fourth cop and pre-empted the Iloilo Provincial Pollice Office (IPPO) in reporting their nefarious activities to the media. Banias wanted to appear “clean” and washed his hands off on the activities of his own men. He projected himself as an “anti-illegal fishing czar” who countenanced no hanky-panky among his men. Too bad for him, his story-line is burned-out. Nobody will believe him.

Preposterous and stupid

I can forgive Provincial Administrator Raul Banias over his inadequate understanding of the law. He is a medical doctor and the ramifications of the Local Government Code might easily slip his grasp. But as the “little governor” of Iloilo, he should get sound legal advice before dwelling into the minefield of legal discussion. His statements regarding the municipal ordinance enacted by the Sangguniang Bayan of Concepcion, Iloilo regulating the extraction, collection and harvest of nylon shells from its municipal waters have been downright preposterous and stupid.

Banias, in an interview over Bombo Radyo with anchorman Don Dolido, said that the use of air compressors as breathing aid for the divers who harvest nylon shells is hazardous to marine life. According to the feeble mind of Banias, the bubbles generated by the breathing apparatus of divers “scare” the fishes away. Where did he get this kind of reasoning? Only a moron can make this argument. Bubbles of air floating to the surface constitutes the least danger to fishes. If that were so, then the use of aerators should be discouraged in aquariums. Neither should it be used in fishponds then.

But Banias is scratching rock bottom when he tries to ascribe danger to fishes to bubbles of air. The illegal forms and methods of fishing are defined under Republic Act No. 8550, or the Philippine Fisheries Code. The use of air compressors to supply air for the breathing apparatus of divers is not included in its scope. It is much unlike the destructive methods of fishing such as the “palupad” or the “super hulbot” that Banias had allowed to operate in the municipal waters of Concepcion when he was municipal mayor. Well, that position might be understandable, because illegal fishing operators were his biggest suppliers of fish and marine products to shipment to Manila.

The plagiarist and hacker, Nereo Lujan, came to Banias’s defense in a column published on Monday, March 14. Reiterating the moronic arguments of his boss, Lujan harped on the supposed opposition filed by a chairman of a barangay fisheries council in Concepcion. In citing provisions of the Local Government Code, Lujan, who was kicked out from the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) 10 years ago on plagiarism issues, deliberately omitted that portion which states that an ordinance is presumed valid and effective if the Sangguniang Panlalawigan fails to act on it with 30 days.

Lujan also declared that the ordinance must be infirm for violating Memorandum Circular No. 129, series of 2002, of the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG). Perhaps Lujan, with his penchant of just copying anything that suits him without proper attribution, didn’t bother to read the document in its entirety. The circular “enjoins” LGUs to enact ordinances banning the use of compressors as breathing apparatus in fishing. Well, maybe he doesn’t even understand the word “enjoin”.

What is being overlooked here is the exhaustive technical studies and consultation undertaken by the LGU in crafting this ordinance to regulate nylon shell harvesting. Director Drussila Bayate of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) confirmed that Mayor Milliard Villanueva requested for her agency’s assistance in doing a study on nylon shells. The BFAR fielded five divers who are experts in fisheries to survey the coastal waters of Concepcion. A report was formally submitted to the LGU which, among others, outlined suggestions on the regulated harvesting of nylon shells.

This only shows that Mayor Villanueva and the Sangguniang Bayan didn’t enact the ordinance without first looking into every aspect of the nylon shell extraction activity. The municipal council mapped the Concepcion Bay, designated the areas where harvesting is permitted, and set strict regulations on the volume and size of the nylon shells to be marketed. Below the sanctioned size, the municipal fish wardens are empowered to confiscate the same and throw them back into the shallow waters.

Question: did the previous administration even consider crafting such an ordinance? Banias admitted commercial scale harvesting has been going on for more than three years. Why didn’t he mutter a protest? Just because the business was controlled by SB member Sandy Boy Salcedo, Banias felt it was okay to do so?

It must also be emphasized that the nylon shell phenomenon was discovered only four years ago, when Banias was still municipal mayor. He claims credit for it, saying it was his campaign to protect the marine resources of the town that helped bring back nylon shells into its waters. The truth is that Banias wasn’t really against illegal fishing. It was then Governor Niel Tupas Sr. who persisted in stopping all forms of destructive methods of fishing in the 5th district.

At one point, Banias detested the presence of the provincial bantay dagat in Concepcion. He even got the Sangguniang Bayan to pass a resolution declaring as “persona non grata” members of the PNP Mobile Group that escorted the provincial bantay dagat. Governor Tupas, on several occasions, warned him about the operations of his friends who used the “palupad” and “hulbot-hulbot” methods of fishing.

It is ironic that Banias is now using the same provincial bantay dagat to harass the municipal fisherfolk of Concepcion, and in the process trampling upon the prerogatives of the LGU to manage its own marine resources. But he should really get good advice on how to proceed on this issue. Slowly, the truth is coming to the surface, and he is being proved wrong. His preposterous and stupid remarks are only dragging him down like a heavy anchor, with his factutom Lujan serving as additional weight.