MANILA – The Philippine Navy’s plan of deploying hundreds of militiamen is a response to China’s gray zone operations in the West Philippine Sea, a maritime expert said Monday.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the non-military forces would be used to enhance surveillance and counter China’s overwhelming presence in the resource-rich territory.
“It's reacting to China's overwhelming militia presence and the really urgent need for us to have better numbers on the ground in order to monitor the West Philippine Sea,” he told ANC’s “Matters of Fact”.
Part of gray zone tactics used by China to gain advantages with respect to territorial and jurisdictional claims are the deployment of militias, marine scientific vessels and petroleum exploration, he said.
"These are ways by which they're able to maximize their assertions without inviting armed response from government,” Batongbacal said.
Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo announced last week that about 240 militiamen would be deployed to the contested waters of the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands – recruiting fishermen and organizing them into seaborne militia units to counter China’s growing presence in the disputed waters.
The implementation of the plan remained unclear as the nation’s Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there was no government budget for it.
To avoid unwanted clashes, those who will form part of the country’s maritime militia must be well-trained, he said.
“We just need to make sure similar training programs are carried out for this militia and to really emphasize the importance of their duty and responsibility, as well as their accountability in case of incidents,” Batongbacal added.
Last year reportedly at least 100 Chinese fishing boats, organized like militia, gathered near the Philippine-occupied Thitu Island or Pagasa Island.
Until the Philippines materializes its plans, China and Vietnam would be South China Sea’s only players employing maritime militia. Other claimants of the resource-rich waters – Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – are less likely to do so. – With a report from South China Morning Post