‘Oplan Sagip Karagatan’ vs illegal fishing boats launched
By Norman B. Tamar MASBATE CITY --- Masbate Gov. Antonio T. Kho is leading the newly formed “Oplan Sagip Karagatan” (Oplan save the seas), composed of various government agencies and law enforcement units, to put an end to illegal fishing in the island-province. “This is a concerted effort that will involve the police station commander, maritime police, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Prosecutor’s Office, Masbate Advocates for Peace (MAP) and others concerned,” he said in an interview early this week. Kho said he has met with the heads of the said agencies and the chiefs of police to bring to their attention his plans to curb illegal fishing in the province. Vowing to impose stiffer penalties for those who will be caught and increase the reward for the apprehending teams, he urged the agencies to “seriously get involved” in curbing illegal fishing. Judge Igmedio Camposano, MAP president, in a separate interview, said, however, the funds allotted for the campaign to stop illegal fishing could go “down the drain” as the cases against the illegal fishing boats who are apprehended often end up being dismissed. It is common knowledge in the province that illegal fishing operators often bribe the apprehending authorities in exchange for the release of their boats. Kho said he believes this happens because the reward money given to the apprehending team is “very small” and “seems so insignificant.” He promised to increase the reward fund this year, from the current P5M to P10M. Kho said the reward will vary depending on the kind of vessel caught, such that smaller boats apprehended will fetch a reward of P25,000, the bigger boats--P50,000, while for large steel boats and ships, the reward will amount to P500,000. He added that a stricter case will be filed against the violators while police officers who drag his name in their illegal activities will not go unpunished. Kho said he has also ordered Provincial Board Member Jamon Espares to draft a resolution for the purchase of two speed boats mounted with a machine gun and other high-powered firearms so the illegal fishing boats could be caught easily. He said he fears the illegal fishing boats are more equipped with high powered firearms than the law enforcers and apprehending team. “We must upgrade our men in uniform for this task,” said Kho. He said the launching of Oplan Sagip Karagatan, which provides for a holistic approach, is “a first in the political history of the province” that could totally stop illegal fishing in the province. “We should be 101 percent successful in this,” he added.