By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – A Filipino fisherfolk group decried the “no-sail zone” policy in at least five towns in the province of Zambales in the 18-day run of joint military exercises between the US and Philippine troops.
“Placing their fishing grounds under no-sail zone just in time of the peak fishing season is highly unacceptable and detestable. Fishers in the province consider the months between February to May as peak fishing season,” Pamalakaya vice chairperson Bobby Roldan said in a statement.
The ‘no-sail zone’ covers the coastal towns of San Antonio, San Narciso, San Felipe, Cabangan, and Botolan in Zambales.
Balikatan (Filipino word for shoulder-to-shoulder) is an 18-day joint military operation between US and Philippine troops, which will run until April 28. This is one of the biggest joint military drills which experts believe will intensify the tension in the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
Pamalakaya said that this is similar to the fishing ban imposed in the Bicol region in 2009 when the US military conducted their drills. The preparations for the 2009 Balikatan exercises in Bicol also caused the death of a one-year-old when a grenade hit one of the houses where a family has just finished having lunch.
“What difference does the US make to China when it comes to disrupting the livelihood of Filipino fishers in the West Philippine Sea?” Roldan asked.
In a separate statement, Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said that the ongoing joint military operations only aim to form part of the US government’s war theater operations against China.
This also coincides with an increased number of military sites that the US troops will use in the Philippines, pursuant to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
“By accommodating the US troops and its bases despite this open declaration of preparation of war with China, the Marcos administration and its security officials are at a high risk of inflaming the tensions in Taiwan. To believe that the Balikatan drills won’t incite any tensions or not be directed at anyone is just pure ignorance if not unquestioning obedience to the US,” Hicap said.
Roldan, for his part, said that Filipinos do not deserve to be displaced from their sources of livelihoods “only to provide a security blanket to foreign forces carrying out war games accompanied with live fire exercises in our fishing grounds.”
He added, “We demand the US troops to leave the Filipino fishers in peace and bring their warmongering power projection elsewhere. The Marcos administration should heed the objection of Filipino fishers against Balikatan, which is a threat both to the socio-economic rights and national security.” (DAA)