NUEVA VIZCAYA, Philippines – The Philippine military may be among Asia’s weakest but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin assured local fishermen the government has the capability to escort them “if necessary” so they can continue fishing in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“We have the capability to secure them. We will not follow the rules of China in our own territory. Why are we going to seek the permission of a country that doesn’t own the fishing grounds. It is ours,” Gazmin told reporters in Fort Magsaysay.
Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista earlier told fishermen to ignore China’s new rules requiring foreigners to seeks its permission to fish in disputed waters including areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Gazmin said the government continues to seek clarification from China regarding its new fishing rules.
PH welcomes US lawmakers’ position vs China
The defense secretary also welcomed the position of US lawmakers calling for “tough sanctions” against what he described as China’s “salami-slicing tactics” in aggressively pushing its claims in the disputed waters.
Gazmin said the Philippines needs a superpower like the US to tell China to “slow down” as it aggressively pushes its maritime interests through its new fishing rules and the earlier Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that requires foreign aircraft to also seek its permission.
“Somebody has to say, ‘Hey, slow down.’ No one can do that except a superpower. China is projecting that it is a superpower but it is showing its might to small countries like ours, which cannot match them in military might,” Gazmin said in Filipino.
“We need somebody, a big country, to say hindi dapat ginagawa yung ganyan,” Gazmin added.
Send Coast Guard?
It’s a careful balancing act for the Philippine military which supports the peaceful resolution of the maritime conflict through international arbitration.
Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) commander Lieutenant General Gregorio Pio Catapang – whose area includes the Panatag Shoal – said he hopes to organize the affected fishermen.
Catapang said the military can also seek the help of the Philippine Coast Guard to escort local fishermen so they can continue fishing.
Sending navy ships to disputed waters could provoke China. This is the lesson of the 2012 months-long standoff between Manila and Beijing. The Philippines was said to have committed a mistake when it sent a warship – then the newly acquired BRP Gregorio Del Pilar – to deal with the Chinese fishing boats. (READ: PH’s 1st mistake in Scarborough)
Catapang said the government may also need the fishermen to upgrade their small fishing vessels. “They really have to look into the kind of vessels they are using. Hindi na talaga pwede ang maliliit na vessels,” Catapang said. – Rappler.com