Esperon rejects Filipino fishermen to act as militias to protect West Philippine Sea
The Philippine government will not follow China in deploying militia in the disputed South China Sea, an official said on Wednesday.
In a virtual forum, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the government would rather want the Filipino fishermen to catch fish and protect the environment than transform them into government militias similar to Chinese fishermen.
"We must admit that we know that the Chinese government has been deploying Chinese maritime militias that are under the control of its Coast Guard. We know that they are in the South China Sea and in the West Philippine Sea," he said.
Esperon, also the chairman of the National Task Force on West Philippine Sea, noted that Chinese militias are well equipped, have bigger ships, and sometimes were deployed near the Philippine-claimed Pag-asa Island doing "minimal fishing."
In the case of the Filipino fishermen, he said the government has not finalized any plan for their deployment in the West Philippine Sea.
He did not want "miscalculations" to take place if they would be turned into government militias.
"We want them not as militias. We want them as good fishermen," Esperon said.
Citing the report of National Mapping and Resource Information Authority Deputy Administrator Efren Carandang, who was also in the same briefing, Esperon said out of the country's total fisheries production of 4,415,002 metric tons in 2019, only 323,684 metric tons or 7.33 percent are from the West Philippine Sea.
He said the government would rather have more fishermen going to the West Philippine Sea to catch fish and allow the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, and the Philippine Air Force to secure them and the area.
"Let us not put there weak forces. I would have a preference for well-trained forces that are better equipped rather than ragtag fishermen who would go there. If we have to put in there people, then we might as well equip our fishermen for a good purpose which is catching fish and protect the environment. We could use them to protect our environment," he explained.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the military was eyeing to form fishing militias in the West Philippine Sea.
Despite the 2016 United Nations Arbitral Tribunal's award on the Philippines and invalidating China's historic and sovereign claim in almost the entire South China Sea, including West Philippine Sea, Beijing has been aggressive in its activities in the disputed water.
Esperon said the Philippines supports the policy of The Quad - composed of United States, Australia, India, and Japan - of free and open Indo-Pacific.
"We certainly agree with the principle of free and open Indo-Pacific oceans and that is also what we have in the South China Sea. We believe that the South China Sea carries about 5 trillion (dollars) value of trade for all. Many nations should be open, peaceful, inclusive, meaning nobody should be excluded there. All countries that can trade and want to navigate through the area should be included," he said.
Esperon said the government is also planning to acquire more marine scientific research vessels for the National Academic Research Fleet to be operated by the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute and National Institute of Geological Sciences.
The Philippines has been occupying nine features in the Kalayaan Island Group, which is also being claimed by China. The nine features include the Pag-asa Islands, Parola Island, Panata Island, Kota Island, Patag Island, Lawak Island, Likas Island, Rizal Reef, and Ayungin Shoal.
Based on the available data from the sedimentary basins of Northwest Palawan, Southwest Palawan, and Recto Bank, the Department of Energy has estimated that the West Philippine Sea could potentially hold a deposit of about 6,084 million barrels of undiscovered oil and 7,108 billion cubic feet of undiscovered gas.
Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte lifted the moratorium on the oil exploration in five areas in the West Philippine Sea, which were awarded to private contractors. Celerina Monte/DMS