MANILA, Philippines – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana believes the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) should be the agency to protect fisheries that belong to the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.
“Because we lack equipment, we lack vessels, I think the BFAR should be the correct agency to patrol the area, to protect our fisheries domain,” Lorenzana said in a Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum on Wednesday, June 19.
Lorenzana was responding to Rappler’s question about the DND’s immediate actions to secure Recto Bank (Reed Bank) after a Chinese vessel rammed and abandoned a Filipino fishing boat, leaving its 22 crewmen floating in the open sea. Recto Bank belongs to the Philippines.
Is it BFAR’s job? Securing the Philippine domain is not the task of the BFAR, however. That task belongs to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which is administratively under Lorenzana. Aside from the AFP, Philippine Coast Guard, also secures Philippine territorial waters.
Citing Republic Act No. 8550, the BFAR describes itself in its website as “the government agency responsible for the development, improvement, management and conservation of the country’s fisheries and aquatic resources.”
Why the AFP can’t do it: The Armed Forces of the Philippine does not have the capability to cover all of the country’s coastline.
Asked what the Defense Department can do immediately after the ramming incident, Lorenzana still responded with pursuing their modernization plan, which is still years in the making.
When he broke his silence days after the incident, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not send “gray ships” to the area to avoid what he described as an all-out war. By “gray ships” Duterte meant the Philippine Navy.
Lorenzana’s compromise: According to Lorenzana, the Philippine government could come up with a “code of conduct” for fishing in the West Philippine Sea with other countries.
This will be different, Lorenzana said, from the code of conduct being framed in relation to the security and navigation.
Meanwhile, fishermen continue to grow frustrated with how the Duterte government has been cultivating warmer ties with China, which has been asserting expansive claims in the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com