The Dept. of Agriculture through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has joined hands with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Navy forces to address the spate of killings of fishermen in the fishing grounds off the coast of the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Seas.

The move came after I met with the families of the eight fishermen who were massacred June 10 by armed men on board two small boats near the island of Laud Simoron.

The surviving members of the eight fishermen said they were afraid to go out to sea because of the presence of armed groups who claim specific areas of the fishing grounds as their territory and extorting money from the fishermen.

Yesterday, I met with Philippine Navy Admiral George Amba, PNP Region 9 Chief Supt. Billy Beltran and Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona to draft a plan to address the killings of fishermen.

Beltran said the group which was involved in the recent massacre of eight fishermen was among the many armed bands identified with the Abu Sayyaf who claim specific fishing grounds as their territories.

In order to be able to fish in the areas they claim, fishing boat operators have to pay up or face the risk of being harassed or even killed.

A joint action team will be formed with the Navy and the PNP assigning men to patrol the areas using boats to be provided by the DA-BFAR.

Fast boats to be provided by the DA-BFAR will be used in the operations and I have authorised BFAR Region 9 Director Isidro Velayo to hire Job Order workers to assist in the operations.

During my visit to the wake of two of the victims of the June 10 massacre, relatives of the fishermen said they were afraid to go back to sea and fish because of the threats.

"When will this end?" one of the victims' relatives asked me.

Although two of the suspects have been arrested and charges have been filed against nine members of the group, the fishermen said there are other groups who could harass them.

Families of the victims received P50,000 each from President Rody Duterte while livelihood projects and scholarships were offered to the families and orphans of the slain fishermen.

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