Guide to genetic sampling permits in the Philippines

Written by Malin Pinsky while a Ph.D. Candidate at Stanford University, October 2008

Note from 2011: The paperwork has been streamlined substantially since this was first written.

As host to some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, the Philippines is a natural site for biological research. However, acquiring the appropriate permits, particularly for genetic research, can be daunting. I’m writing this brief summary of my experience in hopes of making the process easier for those who come later. As background, I’m a Ph.D. student and my research required a few hundred non-lethal tissue samples from two species of anemonefish across three provinces of the central Philippines. The anemonefish aren’t regulated under CITES.

Regulatory Framework

Requirements for the collection of aquatic specimens for research, educational, and/or scientific purposes are addressed under Section 15 of Republic Act 9147, also known as the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act. Additional requirements stem from Executive Order No. 247, known as the Bioprospecting Law of 1995.

The agency in charge of permits is the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), located within the Department of Agriculture. Specifically, Edwyn Alesna is the chief of the Fisheries Quarantine and Wildlife Regulations Section and the primary contact for permits.

Required Permits for Collection and Export

  1. Gratuitous Permit (to collect)
  2. Prior Informed Consent (PIC) from communities (to collect)
  3. Commodity Clearance (to export)

Gratuitous Permit (GP)

The process of acquiring permits began a month before fieldwork (July 7) with an email and phone call to Mr. Alesna (BFAR) from my collaborators in the Philippines, a local non-governmental organization called the Project Seahorse Foundation. I’d recommend starting this process earlier, if possible.

Getting a GP required submission of the following to BFAR:

  1. Research description containing the purpose and methodology; specific areas of collection and methods; use and significance of specimens requested; and other relevant information on the study.
  1. List of scientists/researchers and individuals involved in the project
  2. Endorsement letter and Consent from the Head of the Laboratory (my advisor)
  3. Curriculum vitae of researcher (me)
  4. Letter of approval/consent from department where DNA extractions will be performed (my university department director)
  5. Prior Informed Consent (PIC) from communities where collections will be conducted (see below)
  6. Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and local collaborators (Project Seahorse Foundation)

The MoA and the PICs were the most difficult parts of this list to complete.

Memorandum of Agreement (MoA)

The MoA was signed between the Department of Agriculture (represented by its Secretary) and my university department (represented by our director). BFAR provided us with an example MoA that had been signed with Old Dominion University, and we modified the document to eliminate clauses not relevant to my research. Basically, the MoA says that BFAR will assign the necessary personnel to handle permitting, will issue the necessary permits, and will monitor the project, while I will comply with the applicable laws and provide timely reports on my collections and research. Getting final approval from BFAR to sign the MoA, however, took about one month (finished August 21).

Signing the MoA involved a scanned signature from my department director and actual signatures from my NGO collaborators and from me. Every page had to be signed in the margins, plus final signatures at the end. The notary public signature was handled by BFAR. We sent five copies of this signed MoA to Mr. Alesna at BFAR with LBC (a courier service) so that the Department of Agriculture could add its signatures (finished September 17). The MoA and the GP were then signed by October 7, about three months after initiating the permitting process.

Prior Informed Consent (PIC)

The PICs are permission from each Local Government Unit (LGU), a.k.a. each town, to collect within their municipal waters. The Philippines has decentralized almost all marine management to the LGU level, so municipalities have a lot of power over local decisions. This is very different from marine management in the US or Canada.

Each PIC had to be submitted to BFAR to comply with the terms of the GP and the MoA.

Getting a PIC from a municipality required:

  1. -A letter to the mayor to request a meeting (fax, LBC, or hand-delivered)
  2. -Phone calls to schedule a date and time
  3. -A meeting with the mayor and other members of the municipality
  4. -An attendance sheet from the meeting
  5. -Meeting minutes
  6. -Signing the PIC forms
  7. -Notarizing the PIC
  8. -Submitting the PIC packet (signed PIC, minutes, photos, and attendance) as scanned, emailed documents to BFAR

I co-signed all of my letters to mayors with my local collaborators because the mayor’s offices were more familiar with their work than with me, and their support helped smooth the introduction. Phone calls, and sometimes confirmation phone calls, were often crucial to verify that the mayor, or an appropriate representative, would be at the meeting when I arrived. A meeting could take an hour or two, though much of that would be waiting, or getting introduced to other people working on marine management in the town. Face time with the mayor was usually 10-30 minutes. As my collection sites were spread fairly far apart, I could usually only schedule two meeting a day. I notarized the PICs at the Cebu City Hall (the process is much simpler than notarization in the US), though notary publics can be found in most towns.

While time-consuming, the large benefit of securing PICs from each town was the level of local cooperation that was almost always enthusiastically offered. The Mayor often requested someone from the Municipal Agricultural Office to accompany us during our research and to help us arrange logistics (transportation, boats, housing, etc.). This made the process of research incredibly smooth, whereas logistics in our many research sites would have been difficult without this local support. In return, the municipalities requested copies of my research report.

Overall, I took four weeks to get 18 PICs in the central Philippines, criss-crossing three provinces and taking more bus and ferry rides than I can remember.


Commodity Clearance

After the long process of getting the MoA, GP, and PICs, the commodity clearance was wonderfully easy. Edwyn Alesna helped me contact Jeffrey Cortes, the head of the Exports department in BFAR Region VII (Cebu City). Mr. Cortest issued the export permit when I met with him. I also had to provide him with copies of the MoA and GP.