Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Fishermen are the ones bearing the brunt of the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
Particularly those who used to fish in the Spratly Islands (Kalayaan Group of Islands) and in the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal).
The shoal is a 12-hour sail away from the town of Masinloc in Zambales.
Related: Pres. Aquino: Scarborough Shoal is ours
The local Fisheries bureau said on Thursday that the industry declined by roughly 40 percent since China kicked Filipino fishermen out of the shoal in 2012.
Part of the problem is that the Armed Forces is unable to match China’s military strength.
So the fishermen of Masinloc are left to fend for themselves — with no navy or coast guard watching their back.
However, the AFP Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) is leading the newly formed ‘Area Task Force North’ on the West Philippine Sea.
The goal is to assert the coutry’s maritime rights in the waters off Bataan, Zambales — and the Benham Rise east of Aurora.
Joining the group are the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) fisheries bureau and other agencies involved in managing the effects of the maritime dispute.
Nolcom commander Lt. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo said on Friday that the task force would synchronize efforts of various agencies in asserting maritime rights.
That’s if the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration rules in favor of the Philippines in its maritime case against China.
Tanalgo added that the military remained ready to defend any Filipino against any foreign aggressor.
CNN Philippines’ JC Gotinga contributed to this report.