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The Philippine Navy said this week that it is creating its own maritime militia force, including armed fishermen, to protect the nation’s territorial waters in the South China Sea from Chinese incursions.

Speaking at a Senate budget hearing on October 12, Philippine Navy Chief Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo said that the maritime militia “would patrol areas in the West Philippine Sea and Bajo de Masinloc [Scarborough Shoal],” according to the Inquirer, a Philippine newspaper.

The West Philippine Sea is the Philippines’ name for eastern parts of the South China Sea included in the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a maritime area over which sovereign states maintain special rights to explore for natural resources. The concept of an EEZ was established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Aside from data gathering, they will also be protecting our fishermen as they go fishing in our exclusive economic zone,” Bacordo said of the new navy militia, which will include armed fishermen.

The militia forces were originally recruited by the Philippine Army “to form part of its Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit, or Cafgu militia force,” according to the report.

Control of the militia force will “soon be transferred from the Army to the Navy,” Bacordo revealed on Monday.

“We are looking forward to expanding the scope of the CAAS,” Bacordo said, “using the initials for Cafgu Active Auxiliary Service,” the Inquirer noted.

Bacardo said the Philippine Navy “will request for [an] additional budget in 2022” to expand the militia forces.

“These are our counterparts for [the] Chinese maritime militia,” the navy chief added.

He referred to “a covert fleet of fishing trawlers serving as a support force to the [Chinese] People’s Liberation Army. Hundreds of its vessels loiter near Philippine-occupied areas in the West Philippine Sea and the rest of [the] South China Sea,” according to the report.

“The Chinese vessels have also been harassing or attacking vessels from other countries in the region, including Philippine fishing boats,” the newspaper added.

China uses this militia fishing fleet “to push its illegal claims in the East and South China Seas,” the Diplomat reported this past summer.

Many of the fishing vessels that comprise the Chinese maritime militia “are indistinguishable from China’s ordinary fishing fleet, as they engage in a variety of peacetime missions and receive military training to conduct operations during armed hostilities,” according to the magazine.

China has encroached upon the Philippines’ EEZ in the South China Sea with increasing frequency over the past six months. The China Coast Guard, along with its auxiliary militia, shadows and harasses Philippine fishing and exploratory fleets, preventing them from gathering natural resources within their own waters.

Beijing has also targeted other Southeast Asian nations bordering the sea with this behavior in recent months, such as Vietnam and Malaysia. A 2016 international court ruling dismissed China’s claims to nearly 90 percent of the South China Sea as having no legal basis. China rejected the ruling and continues to push forward with its so-called historical rights to the maritime region.

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