Don’t arm fishermen in plan to deploy militia to West Philippine Sea – Hontiveros

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 14) — Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday warned against arming fishermen as part of the government’s plan to deploy maritime militias to the West Philippine Sea.

Hontiveros said fishermen should not be tapped for the civilian force, as arming them might just invite further harassment from Chinese Coast Guard and militia. Beijing has maintained presence in the disputed South China Sea, including areas Manila occupies and claims as part of the West Philippine Sea.

“Baka lang lalo silang (fishermen) maging target ng China," Hontiveros said during the Commission on Appointments’ deliberations on the confirmation of senior officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). "Baka hindi lang isang fisherman ang mapatay.”

[Translation: They might all the more be targeted by China. Not only one fisherman could die.]

Hontiveros said the government should instead beef up the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard so they can protect local fishermen.

“Dapat ma-escort nila yung mga mangingisda sa contested areas para makapangisda sila nang malaya, free from harassment and bullying, especially by China,” Hontiveros added.

[Translation: They should be able to escort our fishermen to contested areas so they can be able to fish freely, free from harassment and bullying, especially by China.]

In a hearing on the proposed budget of the Department of National Defense on Monday, Vice Admiral Giovanni Bacordo revealed plans to develop “maritime CAFGUs” or Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units that will serve as counterparts of Chinese maritime militia in contested waters.

Hontiveros expressed hope the term CAFGU would also not be used, since it reminds people of martial law.

“I hope that this is not a done deal, that there will be a reconsideration,” she said.

But Bacordo said there are already some members of the CAFGU Active Auxiliary Service who just have to be transferred from the control of the Army to the Navy so they can be deployed to the West Philippine Sea. The AFP also has an existing budget for the recruitment of the militiamen, he said.

The maritime militia will patrol the West Philippine Sea, particularly Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough, a shoal west of Zambales, Bacordo said. The Philippines lost control over it following a 2012 standoff with China, prompting Manila to file a case for international arbitration.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, recognizing its sovereign rights to areas within its exclusive economic zone that China contests. The arbitral ruling also said China violated the Philippines’ rights when it blocked Filipino fishermen from fishing, built artificial islands, and interfered in petroleum exploration in the West Philippine Sea.

China rejects the landmark decision and insists on owning almost the entire South China Sea. President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to set aside the ruling to make way for friendship and cooperation, but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) fired off diplomatic protests on maritime issues.

The latest protest was in August when the DFA called out the Chinese Coast Guard’s illegal confiscation of fishermen’s devices in Scarborough Shoal, and its issuance of radio challenges at AFP aircraft conducting regular maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea.