AFP: Balikatan disruption of fishing a 'small inconvenience' for national security

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
AFP: Balikatan disruption of fishing a 'small inconvenience' for national security
This undated file photo shows fishermen bringing their catch onto the beach.
The STAR / Val Rodriguez, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Tuesday that fishing communities in Zambales should consider that the "small inconvenience" of having no access to fishing areas during the Balikatan will contribute to maritime security.

It also said that local communities and the provincial government were "engaged" during the planning of the exercises, which will include maritime and coastal operations that will disrupt fishers' livelihoods.

Col. Michael Logico, spokesperson for the Balikatan exercises this year, said the AFP reached out to fisherfolk in Zambales province through Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane and the Philippine Coast Guard.

"As far as the engagement of fishermen, we've done our part. And what we are doing actually — the exercise is, in a way, helping us secure and protect our fishermen by protecting our territorial waters and by extension also, by protecting the fishermen's traditional fishing grounds," Logico told reporters after the opening ceremony at the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Tuesday. 

Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA) in a statement of Tuesday morning said the "no-sail zone" policy for the exercises is "disrupting the livelihood of Filipino fishers in the West Philippine Sea." 

The policy will be implemented in San Antonio, San Narciso, San Felipe, Cabangan, and Botolan — all coastal towns in Zambales. 

Filipino, American, and Australian troops are set to participate in the largest iteration of Balikatan exercises this month, running from April 11 to April 28. Simulated war games and humanitarian relief efforts will be held in northern and Central Luzon, Palawan, and Antique.

Despite the exercises running for over two weeks, Logico said the specific operations that will affect the fishermen in Zambales "will only last two days."

"This is a small inconvenience that we are asking the fishermen… we emphathize with their plight, especially if every time we go out and fish, we always run the risk of harassment," he said, referring to encounters with China's coast guard in the West Philippine Sea.

Scarborough Shoal, which Manila also calls Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal, is 124 nautical miles west of Zambales and is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. China effectively controls the shoal, which Filipino fishers are sometimes allowed to approach.

The Palace said during the Duterte administration that Filipino fishers are no longer harassed at Scarborough.

In January, the Department of Foreign Affairs emphasized that Filipino fishermen have the right to "take whatever they are due" while in Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea after a Chinese Coast Guard vessel drove away Filipino fishing boat KEN-KEN.

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