Marcos vows to defend fishing areas for Pinoys
President Ferdinand Marcos on Friday said the government will not back down and will continue to defend the country’s maritime territory and the rights of Filipino fisherfolk.
This is after he ordered the removal of the floating barrier that China set up in the West Philippine Sea to block local fishermen from entering Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
“These are operational issues that I really cannot talk about. But in terms of taking down the barrier, I don’t see what else we could do because [it involved] our fishermen,” said Mr. Marcos, speaking to journalists in Siargao.
The President said the Philippines was not looking to provoke anything in the area, but he said his administration will continue to defend the country’s sovereign rights.
“We are not looking for trouble [but]… we will continue to defend the Philippines, the maritime territory of the Philippines, and the rights of our fishermen to fish in the areas where they have been fishing for hundreds of years,” he said.
Once the barrier was removed, Filipino fishermen reeled in 164 tons of fish on their first day, he said.
“That is what our fishermen are missing. So it is not possible to put up such a barrier and it is clear that it is within the Philippines’ territory,” the President added.
On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) announced the removal of the barrier near the entrance of the Bajo de Masinloc, also known as Panatag or Scarborough Shoal.
The 300-meter barrier was set up by Chinese boats to block Filipino fishermen going into Bajo de Masinloc.
Meanwhile, officials of the Biden administration have told lawmakers in the US House of Representatives that Washington is ready to back the Philippines in case its assets, including those of the Philippine Coast Guard, are attacked in the South China Sea.
Appearing before the congressional hearing of the US House of Representatives on Friday, US Defense Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Lindsey Ford said Washington will certainly invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila in the event of armed attacks against Philippine assets is amid China’s continued aggression in the disputed waters, including the incidents of laser pointing and water cannon attacks against Philippine personnel.
“The [Defense] department has been incredibly clear when it comes to our treaty commitments to the Philippines,” Ford told members of the House of Representatives sub-committee on Indo-Pacific of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Rep. Yong Kim of California.
“We have said repeatedly and will continue to say that we stand by those commitments,” Ford said.
Ford’s assurance came as Kim raised others’ criticisms of the US commitment to the Philippines.
“Is the US prepared to back up its Mutual Defense Treaty with military force? And what message would it send to other countries in the region if the US doesn’t respond forcefully enough to an event that triggers that treaty?” Kim asked Ford.
To prove Washington’s commitment, Ford cited the “credibility” of its military partnership with Manila, which she said is “a bedrock part” of the US security in the Indo-Pacific and globally.
Apart from securing a foothold in the Philippines through the nine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites across the country, Ford said Washington is also helping an American company operating in Subic operate a shipyard it sees as a “critical strategic infrastructure.”
“The fact that US companies are cooperating and helping to build jobs and make sure that that strategic area stays in friendly hands, I think, is incredibly important,” Ford said.
US Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Vice Admiral Andrew Tiongson said the agency is responding to its Philippine counterpart’s requests.
His remark came as Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr raised the Philippine Coast Guard’s concern about the lack of available assets to defend itself.
“[With] the Philippine Coast Guard, we have our largest security sector assistance program with them. In fact, when you talk about assets, we, through the inter-agency partnerships, built an entire training center to help them with operations as well as maintenance of the vessels that they do have,” Tiongson told US lawmakers.
“We have helped them grow their coast guard from 5,000 to their goal of about 35,000. They’re still working on that, but they’re well into that right now. And we have assigned a maritime adviser to them to help along that growth projection,” he added.
The State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs Jung Pak also said the State Department is coordinating with allied countries in the region to address the PCG’s concern.
“Part of the State Department’s goals there is to make sure that we’re consulting frequently and in-depth to talk about exactly what the Philippines needs,” Pak said.
In other developments:
• House Deputy Minority leader France Castro on Friday denounced the Chinese Foreign Ministry for accusing the Philippines of intruding in Scarborough Shoal “without their permission,” saying it was China that was intruding on Filipino territory. Castro emphasized that China should recognize the reality that other countries exist in Asia and have their own territories. “China should wake up from its delusion and face reality. The Philippines has every right to protect its territorial integrity and ensure the welfare of its people. China has no right to dictate our actions within our own territory,” she added.
• A group of fishermen asked the government for equipment and security so that they can assist the government in documenting the aggressive behavior of the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea. The group, Bigkis ng Mangingisda Federation held meetings with key government agencies to offer their help in documenting the movement of Chinese vessels in the waters of Bajo de Masinloc and other areas where China conducts illegal activities.