The nation’s military leadership is considering establishing its own paramilitary forces, comprised of fisherfolk and reservists, to bolster presence in the contested waters of the West Philippine Sea and counter China’s aggressive actions to stake its claim.
General Romeo Brawner, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), made this announcement yesterday at a news conference in Puerto Princesa City.
His declaration came after an incident nearly a week ago in which the Chinese coast guard utilized water cannons and militia vessels to obstruct the safe transit of two Philippine supply boats carrying food, water, and other provisions to Ayungin Shoal.
Brawner stated that they plan to ramp up the deployment of ships and possibly aircraft to safeguard the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from the provocative maneuvers China employs.
In tandem with this effort, there is a focus on strengthening the reserve force and training fishermen in ocean navigation, further ensuring the defense of the Filipino people’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“Yes, it’s part of our plans. Yon na nga, yong parte ng reserve force development natin—when you say reserve force, it’s not just land-based forces. So, we are also trying to develop our reservists who will be able to operate in the sea,” Brawner said.
“Yong mga fisherfolk natin ay gawin din natin na mga reservist—tuturuan din natin sila kung paano sila makakatulong sa pag depensa ng ating bansa,” he added.
He explained that the reserve units have already been established, but they are currently awaiting the allocation of platforms or vessels intended for their use.
The timeline for their deployment hinges on the funding that will be allocated by the government.
“But definitely, we are heading towards that direction,” said Brawner, adding it will happen “very soon.”
According to Western Command (WESCOM) commander, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos, recent monitoring data in the WPS reveals the presence of over 400 foreign vessels. Of these, 85 percent are identified as Chinese-owned.
In Mischief Reef alone, Carlos said they monitored 191 China militia vessels on Wednesday, August 9.
“For the entire [area], there are many. Over 400 based on our latest monitoring — that’s just all foreign vessel incursions in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) now. Let’s put it at almost 400 plus, that’s a safe estimate because there might be duplications of sightings,” he said.
“If it’s just Chinese, as of yesterday (August 9) at Mischief [Reef], there are 191,” added Alberto, stating that the sightings are just in WESCOM’s area of operations.