After opposing statements were made by members of the community against the proposal to allow fishing inside the PNMS restricted area, additional changes were made to the bill that some say shows House’s contempt to the opposition.

House of Delegates passed a revised version of the bill in the 2nd reading, removing PICRC’s administrative mandate under PNMS, reallocating the $5 from PPEF originally given to PICRC into the national treasury, changing the fishing zones to 70% fishing and 30% sanctuary, and allowing for oil drilling and operation. This version is allowing MAFE to conduct negotiations and execute fishing agreements and gives the President the authority to determine how long the fishing should continue instead of the 5-year temporary opening proposed in the first draft.

“This is House of Delegates showing contempt to the opposition to their proposal. Speaker Anastacio scolded and vilified the NGO representatives and the Palau International Coral Reef Center staff for their opposition. We expected that there will be retaliation and it happened here,” said a long-time observer of Palau’s politics.

“The message has been sent out: oppose us and you will be dealt with. We saw that with EQPB and now we are seeing it again with this bill. There is a sense of repression in this government now. People fear to say things that might go against government leaders now,” added the observer, who also believed he would be targeted for his statements if his identity was known.

The Committee report accompanying the version of the bill that passed the second reading also states that the closure of 80% of Palau EEZ has led to the creation and funding of non-government organizations, “neither of which have provided discernable direct benefit to the people and national government of Palau.”

At the public hearing, House Speaker Anastacio said that the non-government organizations were the only ones benefiting from PNMS while the people suffered.

This statement was countered by Madrengebuked Tommy Remengesau jr., who argued that NGOs such as Palau Conservation Society and Ebiil Society bring services to the people at the community level. 

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