By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

A MILITANT fisherfolk group known as PAMALAKAYA said on Tuesday that surveillance and other intelligence gathering are roles for the military and should not be assigned to fishermen in the South China Sea as it opens them to risks.

“While it is every Filipino’s patriotic duty to defend our sovereignty, we are opposed to involving our fishers into military duties, particularly intelligence gathering and surveillance,” PAMALAKAYA national chairperson Fernando L. Hicap said in a Twitter message. “This proposal will further make Filipino fishers vulnerable to China’s hostile behaviors in our waters.”

Stressing that it is the military and uniformed personnel who are more apt to safeguard Philippine waters, Mr. Hicap added: “Filipino fishers will ensure stable fish production as long as the mandated authorities are out there to protect our waters from any foreign aggressors.”

Last week, the House of Representatives approved the P5.768-trillion national budget for next year without any changes, but congressmen committed to realign the combined P650-million confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and Department of Education (DepEd) to intelligence and security offices.

Among the agencies that will benefit from the intelligence funds are the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), National Security Council (NSC), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“We stand by our call that the Philippine Coast Guard and Navy should be more proactive in defense of the West Philippine Sea, and to secure the fishing activities of Filipino fishers in our territorial waters,” Mr. Hicap said.

While PAMALAKAYA opposes giving security and intelligence roles to fishermen, it said that the government should help modernize fishing technology in the country.

“Chinese fishing vessels equipped with relatively sophisticated fishing technology can easily overwhelm the backward fishing capabilities of Filipino fishers, so to be able to exercise our fishing rights in our traditional fishing waters, the government should invest in strengthening the fishing capability of fisherfolk through modernization,” Mr. Hicap said.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that fisheries output in areas the country claims in the South China Sea dropped by 7% to 275,872 metric tons of fish in 2022.