Gov’t task force mulls fisherfolk as ’maritime militia’ in disputed areas

Bea Cupin
Gov’t task force mulls fisherfolk as ’maritime militia’ in disputed areas
Unarmed fisherfolk or 'maritime militia' could take the lead in 'asserting' the Philippines’ rights over disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, the military says

TARLAC, Philippines – If things go according to plan, unarmed fisherfolk or “maritime militia” could take the lead in “asserting” the Philippines’ rights over disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“I cannot go into details [of what we plan to do] but I assure you our objective is to assert our rights over the shoal with the help of all agencies including our fisherfolk which we will soon call our Maritime Militia,” Northern Luzon Command chief Lieutenant General Romeo Tanalgo said in a media briefing on Friday, June 24, as they announced the first meeting of the Area Task Force-North (ATF-North) under the newly-created National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea.

Tanalgo, as Nolcom chief, heads the ATF which counts as members maritime and regional police, the Philippine Coast Guard, a various government bureaus.

The military general however, was quick to clarify that the exact role of the “maritime militia” had yet to be determined, since the ATF had only met that morning in Tarlac.

It’s fisherfolk that have been affected the most by the ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea. China, citing the so-called 9-dash line, has claimed practically the entire sea.

ATF North covers Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal), Batanes, and Benham Rise.

“This is not purely a military affair nor a purely law enforcement affair. Ang pinakastakeholder natin fisherfolks (The biggest stakeholders are the fisherfolks). And we should be ale to organize them, mobilize them so that they could exercise their rights. And we will term them as “Maritime Militia” kasi di naman pwede magsabing (because we can’t call them) CAFGU…. Bantay Dagat, that’s part of maritime militia,” explained Tanalgo when pressed on the term “maritime militia.”

Asked what the “maritime militia” would be able to do in the face of harassment from Chinese authorities, Tanalgo said: “If you had people power in EDSA, siguro meron tayong people power sa dagat (maybe we should have people power in the sea).”

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea was formed in late March this year by outgoing President Benigno Aquino III. Its formation comes as the Philippines awaits the result of an arbitration case filed in The Hague.

Bajo de Masinloc, among other areas, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

Aside from tapping fisherfolk, Tanalgo told reporters increasing maritime patrols in affected areas was also being looked into.

Local fisherfolk in Zambales had earlier complained that while they were allowed to fish in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinloc, Chinese authorities bar them from entering the ecologically-rich shoal itself. Chinese vessels patrol the area 24 hours a day while Philippine Coast Guards only go around the area once a week, according to locals.

Tanalgo refused to say categorically if patrols would be increased or if the military would make its presence felt in the area as well. “I cannot answer that. I don’t want to project,” he told reporters. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.