Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma on Monday said the “additional operational assets” of the Department of Transportation and Communications-attached agency would “address maritime safety, search-and-rescue and environmental protection concerns not only for the West Philippine Sea but for the whole country.”
“The arrival of additional assets, which pale in comparison to the size and numbers of the Chinese Coast Guard, will take several years to complete. So it is not meant to match up with them but rather to measure up to the PCG’s mandated tasks under Republic Act No. 9993,” the Philippiine Coast Guard Law of 2009,” he told the Inquirer in an e-mail.
Coloma quoted Commander William Arquero of the PCG’s Public Affairs Office saying the command was “maintaining close coordination with other government agencies and the National Coast Watch System to enhance maritime domain awareness.”
Asked about a New York Times News Service (NYTNS) report that China was rapidly building coast guard ships, which Beijing uses to patrol the South China Sea, Coloma, also head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, noted that the PCG “will operate within the bounds of international laws that the country has acceded to.”
The command, he added, “fully supports the efforts of the government in seeking a diplomatic solution to the disputes” in the West Philippine Sea, which is claimed in part or in whole by the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
In its report, the NYTNS said that in the last three years, Beijing had increased its coast guard fleet by 25 percent.
“China has the world’s largest coast guard fleet with more ships than its neighbors Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines combined,” it said.
The United States has become increasingly concerned about China’s maritime power as it undertakes land reclamation to create artificial islands in contested areas of the South China Sea.
The new islands are to serve a variety of purposes, among them, establishing defensive military capabilities in the waterway, one of the busiest trade routes in the world, said the NYTNS.
Earlier, President Aquino announced Japan International Cooperation Agency would provide a $184-million soft loan for the PCG’s acquisition of patrol boats from Japan.
Late this year, the PCG expects delivery of two or three of 10 brand-new multirole patrol boats from Japan.
“The seven other 40-meter vessels will be delivered next year,” said Commander Armand Balilo, the PCG spokesman.
The Coast Guard’s current fleet consists of less than a dozen vessels, which are used as search-and-rescue boats. PCG personnel also man 10 patrol boats belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
The new vessels aim to “enhance the capability of the PCG to monitor the country’s maritime domain and exclusive economic zone and effectively enforce Philippine laws within that zone,” Gilberto Asuque, Charge d’Affaires of the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, had said.
In addition to the patrol boats, Asuque said Japan will also provide assistance to improve the command’s telecommunications system.
“You may have the platform or the vessels, but you need a communications system to ensure that the vessels are able to communicate with the PCG command and control office,” he said.
The Japan Coast Guard Mizuki (PS-11) Bizan-class patrol vessel.