The military has deployed additional forces to the country’s northern frontier, as it moves to sustain the gains and operational tempo of both its internal security and territorial defense operations there, with battle-scarred Marines at the helm.
The deployment of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-8 (MBLT 8) in strategic coastal towns of Cagayan underscored the military’s decisiveness to end internal threats and its readiness to quickly respond to any territorial eventualities.
A part of the battalion, which came from the country’s southernmost region and disembarked at Port Irene in Santa Ana, Cagayan, was also deployed in Mavulis, the farthest island of Itbayat in Batanes, which plays a crucial role in the country’s strategic defense.
“We have vast maritime areas in the northern frontier…not only in the Batanes Island group. In the northern part of the island, we have the Mavulis Island. With that, we can [push for] the promotion of safety at sea and also to manifest our strong claims in the farther islands of the northern frontier,” Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) commander Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat said.
Salamat added the deployment of Marines in the country’s northernmost coastal areas, including in Mavulis, where a shelter would be built that can be shared with civilians, would also boost the feeling of security of Filipino fishermen.
Other than securing fishermen and the vast waters in the north, the military also wanted to keep the strategic importance of Mavulis.
The Nolcom launched its maritime domain-awareness operations on Mavulis Island in 2016, due to the regular presence of foreign poachers in its waters.
The jagged Mavulis, which measures about 4 square kilometers in land area, borders Taiwan and sits on the Bashi Channel, the strategic waterway that Chinese warships, including submarines, have to cross in the event that they attack Guam and Hawaii.
The channel connects the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) and the Pacific Ocean
Because of its location, Mavulis is considered a key security figure, the last security defense against China, which has already secured the South China Sea through the presence of its massive military bases built on artificial islands.
A military official said earlier that Mavulis, if converted into a military facility, could check Chinese naval assets that will be launched into the Pacific Ocean through the Bashi Channel, regardless where the ships and other vessels would come from, be it from Scarborough or from the other bases of China in the West Philippine Sea.
A first visit by the government to the island during that same year unearthed trash with Chinese markings that indicate Chinese poaching in the area.
“We are very thankful for this visit. We have been looking forward to this for decades and I hope that our presence out there [in Mavulis] will be sustained because we can only do so much in preserving our territorial integrity as well as our source of livelihood, which is fishing,” former Itbayat Mayor Ruelle Ibañes said then.
Ibañes complained about the regular presence of Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen in their waters.
“Even fishermen from the capital town of Basco on small fishing boats go there to fish and usually encounter big fishing boats from Taiwan, Vietnam and those from mainland China out there,” he said.
Other maritime waters
Salamat said the arrival of the Marines should ensure the strategic presence of the military in the operational jurisdictions of the Nolcom, which covers both land and sea.
“The deployment of the Marines here is to complement the forces that have been deployed… the complementing forces will help ease some of our gaps that we have identified in Northern Luzon. So, they will provide additional force to be able to accomplish our target goals in Northern Luzon,” he said.
The area command covers the geographic areas of Regions 1, 2 and 3 and the Cordillera Administrative Region, and the vast maritime waters of the country’s eastern and western seaboards that include Scarborough Shoal borders, the Batanes Island Group and the Philippine Rise.
Salamat added the presence of additional forces should complement the air and maritime patrols that his command is conducting in its area of operations, including in the Philippine Rise.
“We are privileged to have additional platforms that include air and sea assets to be able to ensure our regular maritime patrol in the Philippine Rise. That is the marching order of the President to secure our [land] and maritime interests [and] the Philippine Rise, as well,” he said.
The Nolcom commander added they have been conducting regular maritime patrol, both in the Philippine Rise and in the Scarborough Shoal.
The Nolcom listed the New People’s Army (NPA) as the primary threat group in its area of operations, although Salamat could not say the number of existing guerrilla fronts that his command is dealing with.
However, he added, the national directive against the NPA is very clear.
“We will exert our best effort to implement the orders of the President to degrade the communists’ capability here in Northern Luzon,” he said.