To strengthen its presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippine Navy (PN) is planning to recruit and arm 120 fishermen who will compose the first batch of the military’s maritime CAFGU Active Auxiliaries (CAAs) in the tension-filled waters.
“We intend to have two companies per naval forces so that’s about 120 maritime CAAs per naval forces. That is the intent and later on from there, we will know if we need to increase or we need to decrease their forces,” said Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo, PN Flag-Officer-in-Command, in a virtual press briefing aboard the BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150).
The plan to form a maritime militia was first bared during the confirmation of the ad interim appointments of 30 military officers by the Commission on Appointments (CA) last week.
“The principle behind the maritime militia is the same principle as having CAAs on land. Parang ‘yung CAA ay inilipat mo lang sa tubig, sa ating territorial sea (It’s like you just transferred the CAA in the water, in our territorial sea),” Bacordo said.
The Philippine Army has the largest number of mobilized Citizen’s Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) among the major services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). CAFGUs are considered as irregular force multipliers of the military.
However, Bacordo revealed that it was not the first time that the Philippine Navy is creating a maritime CAA.
Bacrodo said during his time at the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, he said that maritime CAAs were formed as early as 2014 in the southern part of the country.
“These maritime CAAs have been in existence for long. When I was in the Naval Forces Western Mindanao way back in 2014 to 2016, we already have the maritime CAAs in Western Mindanao and also in Eastern Mindanao,” he said.
Once established, Bacordo explained that maritime CAAs will be a solid and steady force in the WPS since Navy and Philippine Coast Guard vessels do not usually stay in one area for a long period of time when they are patrolling.
“Hindi ka palipat-lipat (Maritime militias do not go anywhere else) so you should be within a certain range from your place of abode unlike in the Navy, patrolya kami diyan (we go on patrols),” he said.
“It is just a stop gap measure to fill where we are no – where the Navy and the Coast guard (are) not (present),” he noted.
Since China started claiming a major portion of South China Sea (SCS), including some areas in the West Philippine Sea, it has maintained a sizeable maritime militia to intimidate other foreign vessels and assert its presence in the contested waters.
Complemented by China’s People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the Chinese maritime militias were observed in some Philippine-occupied territories such as Pag-asa Island in Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in Palawan.
Reports said that the Chinese maritime militias were driving away Filipino fishermen who try to cast their nets while others force locals to barter their catch with noodles or booze.
Bacordo said the PN maritime CAA can match the Chinese militias to secure Filipino fishermen who are trying to earn a living within the country’s territory.
“They can also provide ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaisance missions). They can provide information to the uniformed troops. They cover all types of operation to include safety of life at sea, HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations), to include protecting our fishermen,” he said.
Bacordo said he is optimistic that they will be able to assemble a maritime CAA in all of its naval forces across the country.