Top AFP official cites absence of ‘strategic framework’ in West PH Sea
MANILA, Philippines — A top military official on Monday lamented the inadequate support of the government to Filipino trawlers fishing in the West Philippine Sea, noting that the country is losing billions-worth of resources in the area annually.
During a confirmation hearing by a panel of the Commission on Appointments (CA) on Monday, AFP Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. cited the lack of maritime or fishery policies that could back Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.
Citing a study from the UP Marine Science Institute, Parlade said the country is losing $79 billion in terms of fish potential.
“In the West Philippine Sea alone, and I’m not talking alone about the contested area, I’m talking about Cagayan up to Zambales. They’re saying we are losing $79B in terms of fish potential,” he said.
It was not immediately clear, however, when the study Parlade was referring to was conducted.
“They’re not even talking about hydrocarbons here or fossil fuels. We are losing $79 billion worth of fish in that area alone. Hanggang Scarborough lang ‘yan. That’s because we don’t have maritime or fishery policies,” he added.
He also flagged the seeming lack of “security elements to protect our fishermen as against other countries.”
Parlade said that Vietnam, which also has overlapping claims in the South China Sea, has a maritime strategy that allows its fishermen to be given a government subsidy.
This subsidy, he noted, provides them with funds to upgrade their fishing vessels and maritime instruments to contribute to their country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“Their target is [that] around 54 percent of their GDP will be coming from their maritime economy. Right now, after only around seven years, right now I think they are already at the 47 percent mark,” he noted.
“These countries are supported, these fishermen are supported by their government. But ours, I don’t know, I think we also have support for our fishermen, but it’s not enough,” Parlade added.
To ensure protection and support for Filipino fishermen, the military official said the country’s Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard should be strengthened.
“By that, we are able to protect our fishermen, and then we support our fishermen, supplement them or subsidize them so that they will be able to harness the $79-billion worth of fish annually,” he said.
“That’s what we are missing in the West Philippine Sea because we don’t have a strategic framework to follow here,” he added.
Last week, the Philippines lodged a diplomatic protest against China over its Coast Guard’s “illegal confiscation” of fish aggregating devices installed by Filipino fishermen in a Philippine-claimed shoal off Zambales.
China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines (the West Philippine Sea), Vietnam, and Taiwan.
The Scarborough shoal (locally known as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc) is among Philippine-claimed territories in the West Philippine Sea that are also being claimed by the Chinese under its nine-dash line map.
Philippine ships have long left the area but maritime patrols continue to monitor the movement of Chinese vessels.
Fishermen from Zambales have meanwhile reported being turned away by the Chinese from the shoal, part of traditional fishing grounds for local fisherfolk.
In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated Beijing’s nine-dash line claim over vast portions of the South China Sea.
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