PH Navy defends plan to deploy militia to West Philippine Sea to counter China’s

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 21) – After the Philippine government protested the presence of more than a hundred Chinese vessels, believed to be part of China's sophisticated fishing militia, spotted swarming around Pag-asa Island and the West Philippine Sea last July, its military now wants to counter it the way they know best: deploy their own paramilitary units.

During deliberations for next year's national budget, senators asked Department of National Defense officials on their plan to protect Filipino fishermen constantly under threats of harassment and aggression in the disputed territories.

"The navy is developing the capability for the maritime CAFGU (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit) or maritime CAAS (CAFGU Active Auxiliary Service)," Philippine Navy chief, Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo told the Senate panel on October 12.

"These are our counterparts for Chinese maritime militia-- that will be patrolling the areas of the West Philippine Sea and Bajo de Masinloc, specifically," Bacordo added.

"We would like to look at it as a deterence, for them to continue bullying or harassing our fishermen," Bacordo told reporters onboard BRP Jose Rizal, the navy's first-ever missile capable frigate, on Monday.

The CAFGU was created during the term of former President Corazon Aquino in 1987, largely to build an army of civilian volunteers to help the government in its anti-insurgency campaign.

CAFGU members, mostly residents of rural and rebel-infiltrated communities, are recruited, trained, armed and supervised by Philippine Army units.

Army spokesman Colonel Demy Zagala described CAFGUs as "force multiplier to keep community safe and secure."

Aside from the basic military training, CAFGU voluteers are issued firearms and camouflage uniforms, and receive pay called "mess allowance" for carrying out militia duties for half a month.

"Majority of our CAFGUs are farmers. So they have 15 days to protect their communities and another 15 days to till the land," Zagala explained.

The Army currently maintains about 64,000 CAFGU members nationwide.

The Navy had previously tapped militiamen, mostly fishermen, to help their units go after bandits and pirates in Western Mindanao.

Bacordo said the plan is to replicate the deployment of maritime militias "as a stop-gap measure" in the different naval forces nationwide, particularly those which have jurisdiction in securing territorial borders.

Initially, the Navy wants to pull out 120 CAFGU members each from Army units under the Western Command in Palawan and Northern Luzon Command in Tarlac, and retrain them to become maritime militias.These commands have security jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, respectively.

"We are still in the recruitment and training phase," Bacordo said when asked on the status of the plan.

What will the maritime militias actually do?

Similar to the Army, the Navy wants the militias to be their "force multiplier" at sea carrying out "not only purely military operations, but also constabulary roles like HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster response), as well as, search and rescue."

How will the Filipino militias differ from those deployed by China?

"The criticism in the employment of China, was they were using their militias against our fishermen who are purely civilians with no military training. So that is where the criticisms are coming from. Our militias will just be there to protect that area, (and) to protect our fishermen against harassments," Bacordo said.

Whether the militias will be trained on specific maritime skills, Bacordo said, "that really depends on the type of mission that they will undertake. And that would depend on the area commander."

How will the maritime militias look like?

Unlike the Army, the Navy-administered militias will largely conduct covert "maritime operations."

They will not be allowed to carry firearms and will be not issued camouflage uniforms so they can blend in with fellow fishermen.

"No, definitely, they will not be given firearms," Philippine Fleet commander, Rear Admiral Loumer Bernabe told reporters, in a separate interview, also on Monday.

The militias are also "not authorized" to bring their personal guns or weapons, Bernabe said.

Instead, they will likely be issued communication equipment such as a satellite phone, and tracking devices so authorities can quickly respond to them when they call for help.

"They will be given instrument that will identify their last position whenever some of their personnel or fishermen with them encounter incident at sea. So they will be easily located," Bernabe said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros had also expressed concern if the maritime militia will be given firearms, saying they could easily be targeted by China, or worse, provoked to an armed conflict.

Bernabe said the planned deployment of maritime militia "will emphasize (that) there is the safety of life at sea."

"They are there to protect the natural resources. They will report any abuses on the natural resources. And they will report on the safety of the fishermen in the area," Bernabe added, further pointing out that the security that Filipino militias will provide, will also cover foreign fishermen who will need help in case of an emergency.