United States Vice President Kamala Harris will discuss with Palawan residents the impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing on their livelihoods.
Harris will also meet with young Filipino women to talk about “empowering women and girls,” a senior US administration official said in a background briefing on Wednesday.
Harris will arrive Sunday night after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit in Bangkok, Thailand.
The first woman US vice president will meet with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte separately on Monday.
On Tuesday, Harris will travel to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, to meet with residents, civil society leaders and representatives of the Philippine Coast Guard.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said IUU fishing ranges from “small-scale, unlawful domestic fishing to more complex operations carried out by industrial fishing fleets.”
It is by nature “complex and clandestine, which means data are hard to come by and substantiate,” the BFAR said on its website.
The US Agency for International Development (USAid) and the BFAR released on March 9, 2021, the results of a study, which quantified IUU fishing in the Philippines.
The report found that illegal fishing amounted to 27 to 40 percent of fish caught in 2019 in the Philippines or about P62 billion or $1.3 billion annually.
Harris will also participate in a town hall meeting with young Filipinas.
The vice president “prioritizes lifting up the voices of women and advocating for their economic empowerment and civic participation,” the US official said.
“This will be the first event of its kind she has done overseas since taking office, and it’ll be a good opportunity for direct engagement with the Filipino people, underscoring the strong people-to-people ties with the Philippines and historic ties,” he said.
Harris will also commit to working more closely with the Philippine government “to strengthen our economic partnership and investment ties.”
“We anticipate there will be deliverables and new initiatives on this front, related to the digital economy and upskilling and accelerating the transition to clean energy,” the official said.
Harris will “reaffirm our defense commitments to the Philippines and the importance of our alliance in peace and stability in the South China Sea. They will discuss upholding international rules and norms,” he added.
The Department of National Defense (DND) on Thursday said it sees nothing wrong with Harris visiting Palawan, which is near the contested West Philippine Sea.
DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong downplayed the effect of the visit on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China.
“In my opinion, hindi naman kasi (I don’t think so) we’ve always had visiting dignitaries from the United States who come over anyway from time to time. We don’t see this anything different from that,” Andolong said.
“Ang pupuntahan naman n’ya (Harris) ay ‘yung mga residente at saka ‘yung coast guard which are basically civilians (She will be meeting with the residents and the coast guard … a civilian agency … so we do not see any problems there),” he said.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, invalidated Beijing’s “nine-dash line” doctrine in the entire South China Sea region after it was challenged by the Philippine government.
The nine-dash line encroached on territories of other Southeast Asian countries, including the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Beijing rejected the arbitral court’s ruling.
Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada said on Thursday that Harris’ trip is a manifestation of the robust Philippine-US relations.
“It is an expression of the enduring alliance and strategic partnership of the two countries. We can also view such as being consistent with the November 2021 Joint Vision Statement (JVS) of the two countries which expressed resolve to sustain cooperation across key areas of concern through the conduct of high-level visits and dialogues,” said Estrada.
Estrada agreed that the US vice president’s visit to Palawan is historic, being the highest-ranking American official to visit the island-province.
“As a strong ally, it’s a clear manifestation of their commitment to stand with the government or demonstrate their support and solidarity for the rule of law and maritime law,” Estrada said.
with JAVIER JOE ISMAEL
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