AFP chief pushes Pinoy structures in West PH Sea
The military’s highest-ranking official on Thursday proposed that the country also start building structures in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) considering China’s apparent disregard for the status quo agreement among states claiming parts of the disputed area.
In Thursday’s virtual press briefing, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said, “We are entertaining also the idea—of course, subject to the wisdom of the National Task Force (NTF) for the WPS—to build structures there like what China is doing.”“The reason we’re not building structures there is because there is an agreement that no new structures will be built but China has broken that agreement,” he told reporters. “That’s why we need to build structures now and, again, that is subject to the consideration of the NTF-WPS,” Sobejana said.
According to the AFP chief, while the military has always challenged intrusions into the country’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone, it is also considering other measures aimed at “enhancing our security posture” in the WPS.
But he did not give details, saying the information was not for public consumption.
No greater threat
During the Earth Day media round table, a US official said his country shared the Philippines’ concern over illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the disputed waters.
“There is no greater existential threat to the environment and livelihood of fisherfolk than the destruction of the rich marine ecosystem in the WPS,” US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law said on Thursday.
He added that the US government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was “stepping up our partnership with the Philippines to promote sustainable fishing practices and enhance the well-being of Filipinos dependent on this critical resource.”
Law said they were also working with the Philippine government to “strengthen the country’s maritime domain awareness and ability to secure its territory.”“As (US) Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken has said, the United States believes a strong US-Philippine alliance is vital to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he stressed.
Law cited the study recently conducted by the USAID and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, that showed illegal fishing amounted to 27 to 40 percent of fish caught in the Philippines in 2019, translating into approximately P62 billion ($1.3 billion) annually.
According to the study, IUU fishing ranges from small-scale, unlawful domestic fishing to more complex operations carried out by industrial fishing fleets.
It added that at least 30,000 or 30 percent of municipal vessels remain unregistered, and commercial fishers do not report up to 422,000 metric tons of fish each year.
“These statistics show the vast impact IUU fishing has on the Philippines’ marine ecosystem,” the study said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS
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