PH Navy chief says maritime militias to serve as ‘force multipliers’ in West Philippine Sea
MANILA, Philippines—Filipino fishing militias in the West Philippine Sea would serve as “force multipliers” during periods when the Philippine Navy or Philippine Coast Guard are on patrol and can’t remain stationary in the area.
“It’s a stop gap measure to fill where we are not, where the Navy and where the Coast Guard are not,” said Navy chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo early this week. “We keep on moving. We patrol the area, then we leave,” he said.
The fishing militias would be part of the Cafgu Active Auxiliary Service, or CAAS, recruited by the Philippine Army but trained by the Philippine Navy. They would be deployed to areas under the jurisdiction of Naval Forces Northern Luzon and Naval Forces West, units that cover the West Philippine Sea.
“The principle behind the maritime militia is the same principle as having CAAS on land,” said Bacordo. “It’s like you just placed the CAA in the water, in our territorial sea,” he said.
The fishing militias were envisioned to conduct surveillance and also protect Filipino fishermen.
While CAAS on land are issued firearms, Rear Admiral Loumer Bernabe, Philippine Fleet commander, said the fishing militia would be unarmed even if militiamen personally owned guns.
“Definitely, they will not be given firearms,” he told reporters.
The maritime militia would instead be issued communications equipment and tracking devices.
Bacordo said the Navy and Coast Guard do not have “the capability to be everywhere” and the maritime militias would serve as “force multipliers.”
“The relevance of maritime CAAS is if you’re from Pangasinan, your concern is Pangasinan waters,” Bacordo said in Filipino. “If you’re from La Union, your concern is La Union waters. You won’t be moving from one place to another,” he said. “Unlike in the Navy, we patrol there, next time we would be in Benham Rise,” he added.
Maritime expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal said the roles of the fishing militias should be “well-defined” to prevent unwanted clashes in the area where China is aggressively laying claim to resource-rich territory.
“The needed discipline and training may not be the same as with regular armed forces,” Batongbacal said. “That discipline and training are needed especially in tense situations,” he said.
“But if the roles are well-defined and the deployments are specific enough, it can enable the PN to deploy their regular personnel around the country more efficiently and effectively,” he told Inquirer.net, using the initials PN for Philippine Navy.
He said the militias should be accompanied by a Navy man as often as possible in their operations.
“What the PN needs to be cautious about is to not allow the militia to operate completely independently and without regular forces/personnel present and able to manage their activities,” Batongbacal said.
“Otherwise you might end up with vigilante-like groups or adventurists, which are not the kind of people you want in a tense disputed region,” he said.