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BFAR: Intel funds to aid WPS work

THE Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Tuesday welcomed a congressional decision to augment its budget by reallocating confidential funds from other civilian agencies, saying this would enable it to enhance its monitoring, control, and surveillance in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

BFAR national director Demosthenes Escoto said the bureau is using its current assets and available resources to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, which it said is a persistent threat in Philippine waters.

The additional funding, he added, would help the bureau ensure the sustainable use of the country’s marine resources and safeguard the livelihoods of Filipino fishing communities.

On Monday, the United States and the Philippines launched annual joint naval war games, days after the latest diplomatic row between Manila and Beijing over the disputed South China Sea.

More than a thousand sailors from the two allies are taking part in the annual “Samasama” (Filipino for Together) anti-submarine, surface, and electronic warfare drills off Manila and the south of Luzon.

China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety despite a 2016 international ruling that it has no legal basis, has become a growing concern for Washington and its regional allies.

US Pacific Command chief Vice Admiral Karl Thomas told sailors at an opening ceremony in Manila that the rights of all nations to ensure national sovereignty were “under attack every day on the high seas.”

The “rules-based international order” that guaranteed regional peace for decades has been “ripped at and tugged at and tested to benefit not all nations but one nation,” he said, without mentioning China specifically.

“There’s no better way to ensure sovereignty and security than to sail and to operate together,” Thomas said.

He added that it was important to maintain the right to sail through the area “free from worries about being attacked” or “intimidated.”

Beijing has deployed patrol boats in recent weeks that Manila says harass Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels and Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered a special operation last month in which PCG personnel cut a rope tethering a floating barrier at the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal.

Manila said the barrier had prevented Filipino fishermen from entering the fish-rich ring of reefs, which China seized in 2012.

Beijing responded by warning Manila “not to provoke or stir up trouble” and restated its illegal claims to what it calls Huangyan island.

Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Toribio Adaci said the Samasama exercise “equips us to face an array of threats together.”

US Navy officials said the guided missile destroyer USS Dewey would take part in the exercises over the next 12 days, along with a dry cargo ammunition ship and P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.

A Philippine Navy guided missile frigate would also participate, along with a Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force destroyer and the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver.

Britain, Japan, Canada, France, and Australia are also sending personnel to tabletop exercises as part of the drills, while New Zealand and Indonesia are sending observers.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the ongoing Exercise Samasama highlights the country’s efforts to leverage its alliances to improve its territorial defense capabilities.

“Basically, when it comes to territorial defense we cannot do it alone. So we have to leverage our alliances and our partnerships with like-minded nations. So that’s what we are doing. And Exercise Samasama is one of the venues by which we can do that” the AFP chief said in an interview with reporters.

Brawner said this is aside from the usual benefits the AFP gets like interoperability and capability development from these military exercises which are aimed at building up the Philippines’ defense posture.

Exercise Samasama runs from Oct. 2 to 13 in the waters of Manila and Naval Forces Southern Luzon. With Vince Lopez

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