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Navy to deploy over 200 militiamen to West Philippine Sea

The Philippine Navy is preparing to send over 200 militiamen to the West Philippine Sea to execute patrols and protect fishermen who have long been harassed by encroaching Chinese forces.

In a phone interview with Rappler on Tuesday, October 13, Navy chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said they are set to deploy two Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) companies – around 120 men each – to the West Philippine Sea.

One company will be assigned with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command, which watches over the Kalayaan Island Group, and another company to the AFP Northern Command, which secures Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

"The purpose of this is response to the Chinese, to their maritime militia in the West Philippine Sea," Bacordo said.

Filipino fishermen have been victim to harassment of Chinese naval and militia forces for years. Still, the Duterte administration has chosen to largely resort to diplomatic protests when these harassment claims surface.

The harassment came to a head in June 9, 2019, when a Chinese trawler rammed a Filipino fishing vessel then abandoned its 22 crew members to float in cold water, sparking a controversy over the alliance built by President Rodrigo Duterte with the Asian superpower.

The militia forces' deployment date has not been set, as they will first undergo training care of the Navy.

How do the maritime militias work?

The Navy militias were plucked from the militia of the Philippine Army from the same regional commands.

After their training, Bacordo said they will board motor boats and will be armed with rifles before being deployed.

Aside from protecting fishermen, the militia will be tasked to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations to obtain useful information for the Philippine military.

Their deployment to protect fishermen will also allow the Philippine Navy to focus its efforts on protecting the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Bacordo admitted 240 is still a small number, but he said the effort may be expanded in the future if the AFP deems it effective.

The Navy is also aiming to deploy one company each for the 6 regional commands of the AFP, but they are prioritizing the commands watching over the West Philippine Sea.

On Tuesday, AFP chief General Gilbert Gapay warned the area was "becoming more tense" and that it had become a "potential flash point" in the region. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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