Philippines military vessels shouldn’t accompany fishers in West Philippine Sea – Villar

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
Philippines military vessels shouldn�t accompany fishers in West Philippine Sea � Villar
Sen. Cynthia Villar joins officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in sending off fishermen during the launching of BFAR’s ‘Layag’ West Philippine Sea project in Subic, Zambales yesterday.
Jesse Bustos

SUBIC, Zambales, Philippines — The country’s military vessels should not accompany fisherfolk in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to prevent possible attack from Chinese ships, Sen. Cynthia Villar said yesterday.

“Ever since – I have long been the chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food – it was the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources that provided assistance to the fishermen. It should be the BFAR so that it will not be militarized,” Villar said in her speech during the launch of the Livelihood Activities to Enhance Fisheries Yields and Economic Gains from the West Philippines Sea (LAYAG-WPS) here.

She added that Congress regularly provides a budget for BFAR for the acquisition of vessels that can be used to assist the fishermen.

“(The BFAR) is given ships to watch (over) fishermen and to make sure that they are safe. If it’s BFAR, it’s not too obvious,” Villar said.

“The ships of BFAR should be present while fishermen are fishing in the WPS,” she added.

The presence of military vessels in areas where the fishers operate could agitate Chinese vessels, according to the senator.

She noted that based on government data, fish production in the West Philippine Sea represents 15 percent of the country’s total output.

“The BFAR cannot afford to neglect the fishermen in WPS as 15 percent is essential in the country’s fisheries production,” she said.

She added that the fisherfolk have no choice but to still operate in the WPS despite the threats, as it is their only source of livelihood.

“The fishermen are only trying to make a living despite the fact that it is really very dangerous in the West Philippine Sea. We cannot stop them because without it, they have no livelihood. It will also endanger food security, that’s why we should give our all-out support to the fisherfolk,” she said.

Villar expressed belief that there should be a compromise between the Philippines and China amid the growing tension in the WPS.

“We are not in a position to fight with China, so I believe there should be a compromise. They have to find a common ground. I don’t know what compromise they can negotiate,” she said.

The senator refused to comment on the ongoing word war between President Marcos and former president Rodrigo Duterte.

“The difference is that former president Duterte is pro-China (while) President Marcos is pro-America. For me, it is better if we don’t quarrel with China, we don’t quarrel with the US,” Villar said.

Meanwhile, BFAR national director Demosthenes Escoto said the government aims to sustainably harness the full potential of the West Philippine Sea.

“The WPS is one of the most important and richest sources of fish in the country,” Escoto said during the formal launch of LAYAG-WPS, which aims to boost the country’s fish production in areas covered by the WPS.

Escoto noted that last year, the total fish production in regions covered by the WPS, including Ilocos Region, Central Luzon and Mimaropa, reached 201,895 metric tons.

“We believe that we can still improve the numbers. We can sustainably harness the whole potential of the WPS, and with the help of our government agencies and Congress, we will be able to do it,” he said.

He added that there are more than 300,000 fishers in the WPS.

For National Security Council deputy director general Nestor Herico, LAYAG-WPS will enhance the livelihood of those living in areas situated along the WPS.

“The NSC would like to express its full support not only to this project, but also to all kinds of projects and initiatives aiming to protect, preserve and promote the rights of Filipinos in the WPS. The livelihood assistance to be given to more than 140 fishermen today will surely benefit hundreds and even thousands of Filipino families hailing from Central Luzon and Ilocos,” Herico said.

He added that LAYAG-WPS would boost the economic livelihood of Filipinos affected by territorial disputes and maritime claims.

“This issue in the WPS does not only pose security threats, but also affects the livelihood of our fisherfolk and becomes detrimental to marine environment as foreign claimants build their outpost. It is now time for us Filipinos to claim what we own and what we deserve,” Herico said.

The BFAR awarded livelihood inputs to 100 fishers while women fisherfolk underwent post-harvest training and received various implements.

Over 62-foot fiber-reinforced plastic vessels complete with modernized fishing equipment were turned over to select fisherfolk associations from Central Luzon and Ilocos Region.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu-Laurel said the program could help unlock the potential of resource-rich fishing grounds and increase opportunities in parts of Ilocos Region, Central Luzon and Mimaropa. — Romina Cabrera, Mark Ernest Villeza

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