US exploiting case of missing GenSan fishers to justify spy ops

THE fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) today said the US government has exploited the case of more than 300 missing fishermen in General Santos City to provide a political and moral cover to Washington’s surveillance operations in Philippine sea.

Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said the US government took advantage of the situation to enable its American navy ship, helicopters and spy planes to conduct a daily patrol and surveillance of different activities in Mindanao waters and areas near or adjacent to West Philippine Sea, the current object of dispute among China, Vietnam, Malaysia and other claimants to Spratlys group of islands.

“This is US military intervention in its most subtle and subdued way. We don’t believe the real intention of US is to help local authorities to look for the missing tuna fishermen. That is baloney. What Washington wants is to take advantage and exploit the situation for data gathering purposes,” the Pamalakaya official said.

US ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas Jr said the US military has been assisting local authorities because they requested help.  The US diplomatic official said the request was anchored on the 61-yer old mutual defense treaty and the current Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The US embassy in Manila said the American government is using its P-3C Orion spy planes to serch for the missing fishermen, many of those missing where from General Santos City, the country’s tuna capital.

Pamalakaya and staunch ally Anakpawis party list yesterday urged Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Leila de Lima to press criminal and other appropriate charges against owners of tuna fishing boats who compelled tuna fishworkers to sail despite the advise to temporarily shelve fishing operations days before typhoon Pablo hit Mindanao.

They argued that the justice department is legally and morally obliged to bring to the court the owners and operators of RAFI Incorporated, RLG Fishing, DSG Fishing, LPS Fishing and Salazar Fishing, all based in General Santos City who all dispatched more than 300 fishworkers and crew on board 46 tuna fishing boats at the height of typhoon Pablo.

They lamented that the search and rescue operations conducted by the national and local authorities failed to produce substantial results.

“It seems to us the Philippine government and its concerned government agencies and concerned local government units are not really concern at all on the sorry situation of missing fishermen. If this is the attitude of Malacanang, then we are facing big trouble here, bigger than typhoon Pablo,” the groups said.

Pamalakaya and Anakpawis argued that the tuna companies did not heed to the advisory and instead they pursued their perpetual thirst for precious tuna and gambled the lives of fish workers. Hicap said was really puzzled why the General Santos based Coast Guard allowed vessels to sail and fish for tuna despite weather forecast from Pagasa that typhoon Pablo is going to be more devastating compared to typhoon Sendong that hit Cagayan de Oro City and nearby provinces in Northern Mindanao.

The missing fishing fleets were reportedly located around 115 nautical miles off the Davao Oriental seaboard when the storm warning came, he said. Meanwhile, the Philippine Navy and several fishing companies are conducting search and rescue operations for the missing fishing boats and their crewmembers.

The PCG yesterday released the names of the 305 fishermen and 46 fishing vessels declared missing during the destruction of typhoon Pablo.

The PCG said two of the patrol boats of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), MCS-3005 and MCS-3009, departed from Mati port last Sunday night for seach and rescue operations. The BFAR boats are now located 11.2 nautical miles Southeast of Balut Island in Saranggani province. The PCG said another search and rescue vessel, ARV-3504, left Mati port Monday night and is expected to scour the sea area up to the Indonesian border for two days.

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