Aquino vows PCG modernization by 2017 amid new challenges

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III emphasized the need to modernize the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in line with evolving challenges, and said new equipment will arrive in full by 2017.

On Thursday, October 16, at the 113th founding anniversary of the PCG, Aquino vowed the Coast Guard would keep up with the change in times.

Isandaan at labintatlong taon na nga po ang Philippine Coast Guard; at sa paglipas ng panahon, nagbabagong-anyo rin ang mga kinakaharap nating hamon,” he said.

Dala nga po ng climate change, nakikita nating dumadalas at lumalakas ang mga bagyo. Alam din natin ang komplikadong sitwasyon sa kanlurang bahagi ng ating bansa. At habang nag-iiba ang mga pangyayari sa tubig, kailangan ding bumagay ng ating mga pamamaraan para tugunan ang mga ito.

(The Philippine Coast Guard is 113 years old; and with the passing of time, the nature of the challenges they face have changed as well. Because of climate change, typhoons are stronger and more frequent. We also know about the complicated situation in the Western portion of our country. And while the incidents in our seas change, our ways to meet these challenges must change as well).

In line with the increase complexity and diversity of the challenges, Aquino said 40 rubber boats and 300 aluminum boats are on their way, to increase the PCG’s capacity to patrol the seas and increase effectiveness of search and rescue operations. Two medium helicopters are also expected to come by 2015.

Additionally, 10 40-meter Mutli-Role Responsive Vessels from Japan are also scheduled for arrival: the first in October 2015, two in March 2016, another two in September of the same year, 3 on April 2017, and the final two in October 2017.

All these are part of the government’s modernization initiative, or the Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project, a loan agreement signed in December 2013, worth P9.27 billion ($206.8 million)*.

Aside from new equipment, the construction of 113 new lighthouses have begun. The government said 109 more may be added if the government acquires the plots of land needed for them. He also said the National Coast Watch Center – a center for coordination among agencies for more effective surveillance of the seas – is expected to be completed by April 2015.

"Ang lahat po ng mga inisyatibang ito, nakaangkla sa iisang prinsipyo: Ang pagiging handa sa anumang problema o tensyong maaaring maganap sa ating karagatan," he said.

"Umaga man o gabi, umulan man o umaraw, anumang pagkakataon, dapat mulat tayo at alerto sa anumang nakaambang banta o peligro."

(All these intitiatives lie on one principle: the need to be ready for whatever problem or tension may arise in our seas. Morning or night, rain or shine, whatever the incident, we must be alert for any sort of danger).

The modernization of the Philippine Coast Guard comes amid a maritime dispute with China over territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). China's claim to nearly all of the area, which straddles vital sea lanes and is believed to sit on vast oil and gas reserves, has strained its ties with Southeast Asian countries.

On March 29, 2014, the Philippines submitted a nearly 4,000-page document, called a memorial, in a bid to end what it considered decades of bullying by China. The superpower has refused to acknowledge the designated arbitral tribunal's jurisdiction to hear the case. (READ: China rejects PH case, invokes int'l law)

Dog receives medal

In his speech, Aquino also praised the PCG’s courage and dedication in warding off any form of danger, from smugglers, to human traffickers, to poachers, also crediting them for their rescue operations in time of disasters.

The President also hailed the increased coordination of the PCG with other government agencies in addressing various challenges, noting its work with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to avoid instances that could increase tensions in disputed territories.

One of those that were recognized at the event for their service was a Coast Guard working dog named Bosh, who received a Coast Guard Search and Rescue Medal and Ribbon for “being instrumental in recovering 4 cadavers during the search and retrieval operations in the aftermath of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol.”

Bosh, an 8-year-old Labrador Retriever, had also been to Compostela Valley to search for bodies trapped by a landslide. – Rappler.com