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More BFAR floating assets eyed in West Philippine Sea

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
More BFAR floating assets eyed in West Philippine Sea
During the Bagong Pilipinas briefing yesterday, BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera said the funding would be used to acquire monitoring control and surveillance patrol vessels and food boats that would be used to assist Filipino fisherfolk amid the continued harassment by the Chinese coast guard and militia.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Central Ofiice

MANILA, Philippines — To ensure the presence of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in the West Philippine Sea, the government has allocated P2.5 billion for the procurement of new floating assets for BFAR.

During the Bagong Pilipinas briefing yesterday, BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera said the funding would be used to acquire monitoring control and surveillance patrol vessels and food boats that would be used to assist Filipino fisherfolk amid the continued harassment by the Chinese coast guard and militia.

“The government allotted P2.5 billion for the procurement of these new floating assets so (we) can assist our fishermen and they can see (our) presence in the West Philippine Sea. We need to increase our floating assets in the WPS,” Briguera said.

He added that BFAR has provided at least 13 tons of diesel to the fisherfolk after the successful resupply mission in Rozul Reef on Feb. 5.

Briguera also said that BFAR would soon launch the livelihood activities to enhance fisheries yield and economic gains or LAYAG program in the WPS.

“This is one of the projects of the government. The government will provide livelihood intervention and expand the opportunities for livelihood to all the fishermen in (the WPS), including the fisherfolk in provinces (nearby),” he said, noting that at least 385,300 Filipino fisherfolk make their living there.

Included in the LAYAG program are the National Capital Region, Mimaropa and Regions 1 and 3, he added.

Meanwhile, Philippine Coast Guard-WPS spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said the PCG would continue to exercise “maximum tolerance” despite the reported aggressive behavior displayed by Chinese vessels in the WPS.

In an interview over dzBB yesterday, Tarriela said the PCG has no intention of being the cause of the escalation of tension in the WPS even when it is at the receiving end of China’s aggression that include the alleged pointing of military-grade laser, firing of water cannon and doing dangerous, close or blocking maneuvers.

“We have been compliant with the guidance of the President that we should not be the reason to escalate the tension. Whatever they would do to us, we would not react negatively that would result in escalation,” he pointed out.

Tarriela noted that during these maritime incidents, the PCG only responded with radio challenges and documented the instances to inform the Filipino people and the international community of what is taking place in the WPS and let them see who the violators are.

Tarriela stressed the PCG is exercising maximum tolerance because of its awareness that Filipino fishermen would be the ones to suffer if they retaliate and the situation worsens.

“That (maximum tolerance) is the primary guidance of our commandant, Admiral Ronnie Gil Gavan. Our objective here is to protect our Filipino fishermen and support them in their fishing activities,” said Tarriela.

Asked what the PCG would do if China will conduct other forms of harassment, he explained the Asian neighbor also “exercised restraint, calibrated (response) without engaging in military action.”

“China is very calculated in its every move. When it took the Mischief Reef in 1995, during the standoff in 2012, and from 2013 to 2016 they reclaimed so many islands in the South China Sea, not just the West Philippine Sea. They keep on changing the status quo without actually firing a single shot,” Tarriela said.

“If the question is, are they going to go that far, to go beyond their great tactic that is short of war, I think there are a lot of scholars who would say otherwise. So, from our point of view, we are on the right track. Our approach is not to escalate the tension but to tell the international community that it is China who chose to violate the international law,” Tarriela added.

Last Feb. 1 to 9, the BRP Teresa Magbanua conducted maritime patrol at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and distributed food packs to more than 100 fishermen in the area. During that time, it spotted four China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and four Chinese maritime militia vessels.

Then on Feb. 11, Tarriela continued, these “CCG vessels shadowed the PCG vessel on more than 40 occasions, with the closest distance being 176 meters from its side. The CCG vessels performed dangerous and blocking maneuvers at sea against BRP Teresa Magbanua four times, with the CCG vessels crossing the bow of the PCG vessel twice, recklessly.”

Tarriela reiterated that the Philippines has sovereignty over Panatag Shoal and its territorial sea, and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the surrounding waters falling within the Philippine exclusive economic zone as measured from the archipelagic baselines, in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 Arbitral Award.

Given the incidents, National Security Council assistant director general Jonathan Malaya said more countries are now signifying the desire to have a military alliance with the Philippines, similar to what the country has with the US and Australia under the visiting forces agreement or VFA.

“We have a VFA with Australia, then we’re signing more VFAs with other countries… I could not reveal the details yet but they (other countries) want a VFA/RAA (Reciprocal Access Agreement)/status of forces agreement with the Philippines,” he told a press briefing of the National Task Force on the WPS in La Union yesterday.

Malaya said the negotiations are happening as the Philippines inches closer toward signing an RAA with Japan and with the joint sail activities of the Philippines and the US Indo-Pacific Command in the WPS. — Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan

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