By Betheena Kae Unite
It was a busy year for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) as it equipped itself with more tools and personnel, gearing up for maritime security challenges in the coming year.
Among the biggest challenges faced by the agency in 2017 was the task to be the “captain of the ports,” overseeing the security and operations in all ports in Mindanao.
When martial law was declared in Mindanao in May, the Coast Guard also sent 300 of its men including special operation force and anti-terrorism unit to be an additional reinforcement for the government defense against the Maute terrorists.
PCG men deployed in Mindanao also provided diversionary tactics over the enemies while conducting intensified patrols in the vicinity waters off Iligan and Cagayan De Oro.
Remarkably, the Coast Guard apprehended armed bandits and law violators successfully during operations.
Two alleged pirates in Davao City were nabbed last June 5 while three confirmed Maute members were arrested in Iloilo after departing Cagayan De Oro onboard a passenger vessel. They were detained last June 18.
Claims on being the piracy capital
In the middle of the year, the world shipping community sounded the alarm that the Philippines is becoming the next piracy capital of the world due to the piracy incidents occurring in the south.
This claim, however, was belied by Commodore Joel Garcia, PCG officer-in-charge, when he was invited to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery in Singapore, allaying fears of piracy escalation in the country’s territorial waters.
“Four new vessels from Japan were also sent to alternately patrol the Moro Gulf, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Tawi Tawi, including Sibutu Passage.To this day, incidents of piracy have gone down,” PCG said.
The Safety Security and Environmental Numbering System was implemented in June covering all vessels and water crafts in the country in a bid to eliminate the escape plans of terrorists and kidnap-for-ransom bandits.
Under the scheme, all water crafts plying the Philippines territorial waters, if not bearing the identified markings or numbering, will be considered suspicious and will be apprehended.
“As of November this year, 99 percent of its implementation in Mindanao has been accomplished and the rest of the country is catching up,” the PCG announced recently.
Several equipment were also added to every Coast Guard units in the country this year following the procurement of major projects.
The additional water crafts included 20 jet skis, 10 11.5-meter special purpose crafts for maritime law enforcement, 20 aluminum boats, 12 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB), a medium weight multi-purpose twin engine helicopter, motor vehicles including 10 boom trucks and five ambulances, among others.
Next year, the PCG said, it will be building five regional bases – two in the eastern seaboard of the country, one in Southern Philippines, one in West Philippines, and one in Southern Visayas.
It will also be spending R197 million to build 20 radar stations to monitor vital sailings.
The PCG will also be receiving foreign funded projects like the completion of the 10 44-meter Multi Role-Response Vessels; 2 92-meter vessels; and 10 rigid haul inflatable boats from Japan all due next year.
Testing the waters
The PCG has also started taking steps to test the waters between their relationship with their Chinese counterparts in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines and China had agreed to do better communication and coordination when their respective Coast Guards meet in the disputed sea.
According to the PCG, the agreement means that when the two Coast Guards meet in the said sea, “they would be able now to communicate with each other in a fashionable, friendly, and cooperative manner.”
Under the agreement, the Hotline Communication Mechanism in the operational and tactical level were established by the two Coast Guards in their security and law enforcement cooperation.