PCG: Assets to defend fishermen in WPS not enough but gov't in talks with other nations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) - A Philippine Coast Guard (PGC) official admitted their assets are not enough to ensure the immediate defense of all Filipino fishermen against harassment in the West Philippine Sea, but said they are maximizing the "very little" resources they have.

"Kung ang katanungan po ay enough ba ang aming effort [If the question is whether or not our efforts are enough], we have to be realistic," said Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG's spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, in a media briefing on Friday.

"We have very little number of coast guard assets, pero itong mga assets na 'to ay ginagamit natin para protektahan ang interes ng ating mangingisda [but we use these assets to protect the interest of our fishermen]," he continued.

Tarriela made the statement after Filipino fishermen reported being driven away by a Chinese Coast Guard ship at Ayungin Shoal on Jan. 9.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has reiterated that Ayungin Shoal is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

According to Tarriela, they have already submitted to the DFA an affidavit from the fishermen and videos of the incident, which the department can use as evidence in filing a diplomatic protest against China.

Meanwhile, the coast guard said it continues to strategically boost its presence in the disputed waters. Given the limited resources, Tarriela explained that PCG vessels are deployed only in areas where there are large numbers of Filipino fishermen.

"At present, we have three offshore patrol vessels - dalawang 97 meters na galing sa Japan at isang 83 meters na galing sa France - at sampung 44 meters na maliliit," he said.

[Translation: At present, we have three offshore patrol vessels - two of them 97 meters long and came from Japan, while one is 83 meters long and is from France - as well as 10 smaller vessels which are 44 meters long.]

He added that the Philippines is coordinating with Japan and France for the acquisition of more of the 97-meter and 83-meter vessels.

Tarriel said the government is also requesting assistance from the United States in establishing another port facility in either the western or southern part of Palawan. He noted having a port facility in either of those areas would make the deployment of PCG vessels easier.

On Thursday, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called on the coast guard to be ready, saying its mission to help patrol Philippine waters and assist fishermen has become "intense" over the past few years.

"We must guard ourselves, we must be ready and aware and industrious in the work that we do to make sure that we do not have any untoward incidents, that we do not have any mistakes, we do not have any misunderstandings that might cause the problem to escalate out of our control," Marcos also said.

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