The phraseology of Presidential DecreeNo. 601,otherwise known as the Revised Coast Guard Law of 1974, shows an intent to create a Coast Guard organization having a legal mandate that is broad and flexible enough for it to pursue its fundamental missions alongside other government agencies having parallel, if not superior, legal mandate. The general mandate of the law that brings the PCG at the forefront of maritime law enforcement is given further clarity in bilateral and multilateral agreements with the Bureau of Customs (BoC), the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), among others. These agreements lay down the operating procedures and prevent duplication of efforts between operatives of different government agencies operating within overlapping areas of responsibility. It must be emphasized, however, that in the performance of these functions that were forged based on agreements, the PCG follows the “lead agency” concept wherein the Coast Guard only plays an assisting role during the conduct of operations and it is still the agency with the principal mandate that takes the lead role.
Anti-Smuggling: PCG collaboration with the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the Presidential Anti- Smuggling Group (PASG)
Anti-smuggling operations conducted by the PCG are carried out in coordination with the BoC. The PCG-BoC Memorandum of Agreement authorized PCG personnel to ensure compliance with customs laws in ports where no customs official is regularly stationed. Under the MOA, PCG personnel are entitled to receive confidential information relative to smuggling operations, fraudulent transactions, and illegal port operations. Accordingly, the PCG personnel can take testimony, and receive evidence tending to prove allegations of violations of customs fraud.
Anti-smuggling operations outside customs zones, on the other hand, are carried out by PCG personnel in coordination with PASG. The PASG operates as a second layer of anti-smuggling action to intercept contraband that sneaked past authorities in customs zones. Because the PASG brings together at least eight (8) government agencies, it serves as a check to curb irregularities in the enforcement of customs laws.
Anti-Illegal Drugs: PCG collaboration with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)
The PCG’s anti-illegal drugs campaign is bolstered by its participation in the Interagency Counternarcotics Operations Network (ICON), which is under the supervision and control of PDEA. The ICON is a coordinating body that serves as a center for information and intelligence relating to anti-illegal drugs operations. Its mission is to support law enforcement through timely analysis and dissemination of intelligence on the movement of illicit drugs, and coordinate detection, monitoring and interdiction operations. The facilities of ICON are manned jointly by the PCG, PDEA, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).
Anti-Illegal Fishing: PCG collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR)
Perpetrators of illegal fishing use dynamite, cyanide, fine-mesh net, trawl, purse seine and super lights to achieve production targets at the expense of marine habitats and marine life sustainability. Hundreds of fishermen were arrested and their vessels seized in numerous PCG-BFAR joint operations using modern Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) Vessels. MCS Vessels can surge up to 24 knots which is just the speed needed in pursuits against overpowered pumpboats and fishing boats used by poachers.
Law Enforcement Coordination: PCG collaboration with the National Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (NALECC)
Elements of the Coast Guard Intelligence Force (CGIF) maintain a Coastal Community Intelligence Network which gathers information that is essential in identifying and neutralizing threats to ports, harbors, vessels and national security. The CGIF makes sure that vital information is regularly shared with other agencies through NALECC. NALECC was created to serve as the venue for the coordination of all law enforcement activities of various government law enforcement agencies. NALECC brings together the resources of some 50 government agencies that coordinate on matters of counterterrorism, marine environmental protection, intelligence coordination, and international law enforcement cooperation, among others.
Transportation Security: PCG collaboration with other agencies for the protection and security of commercial/passenger vessels of the sea marshals
The deployment of Sea Marshals on board domestic passengers ships continues to be a cooperative undertaking of the Coast Guard, AFP, PNP and private ship security agencies primarily against threat of terrorism. Sea Marshals have contributed no doubt in a number of successful counteraction operations against human trafficking, illegal traffic of firearms, explosives, drugs and other contraband and petty crimes while vessels are underway between ports of destinations.
PERFORMANCE HIGHLIGHTS Anti-Explosives Trafficking
The unrelenting vigilance of PCG operatives has resulted in the interception of explosives that were supposed to be surreptitiously conveyed on board passenger vessels. In separate incidents in July 2009, PCG personnel conducting mandatory pre-departure inspection of vessels discovered improvised explosives hidden in various places. On July 16, Coast Guard personnel discovered 350 kilos of ammonium nitrate and 1,800 pieces of blasting caps on board a vessel docked at a port in Mandaue City, Cebu. The explosives were concealed in boxes and were declared as dry goods and biscuits. The vessel was bound for Iligan City via Ozamis City. Nine days later, twelve bottles of improvised explosives were found inside a trash can in the female comfort room of a vessel docked at Talao-Talao Pier in Lucena City. Also seized were blasting caps, time fuse, and firing wire. Explosives experts reckon that the bombs were specifically designed to maim and kill people. The vessel was bound for Masbate.
In August 2009, the driver of a 10-wheeler truck attempted to load a cargo of 32 sacks of 50 millimeter Emulex Dangerous Explosives of ammonium nitrate, some 828 dynamite sticks, and some 300 pieces of non-electric blasting caps in a vessel docked at the Lipata Ferry Terminal in Lipata, Surigao City without the necessary permits. Vigilant Coast Guard personnel held back the shipment and turned over the driver, his helper, and the shipment to the police. The vessel was bound for Batangas Port. It is relevant to note that Batangas Port, in turn, is the scene of a major seizure of explosives by Coast Guard personnel in October 2008. Meticulous inspection of all compartments resulted in the discovery of 6,100 pieces of blasting caps and 3,050 pieces of time fuse which were valued at Php40,000.
The seizures mentioned above are but a few of the instances where the vigilance of Coast Guard personnel has prevented unspeakable human suffering and destruction of property.
Impressive human intuition and the power of modern equipment come together in intercepting an arms shipment cleverly concealed in three innocuous Balikbayan boxes. When the boxes were left unclaimed at the Aboitiz Transport Inc. (ATI) baggage/luggage inspection area on 25 April 2009, personnel of Coast Guard Port State Control Center (PSCC) Manila, together with Coast Guard K-9 Unit detailed as Quick Response Team, were on hand to execute inspection procedures. With the use of an ATS X-ray machine, the boxes were discovered to contain six pieces of high-powered M14 rifles, a .22 cal assault rifle, three empty M16 magazines, and a bolt for a .60 cal-machine gun. A letter in Arabic was found among the firearms. The boxes are supposed to be shipped to Zamboanga City.
On 21 August 2009, Coast Guard Units in Luzon were alerted and ordered to find MY (motor yacht) Mou Man Tai which is believed to have participation in gunrunning activities in Bataan. Earlier, joint teams of Bureau of Customs (BOC), PCG and local PNP seized high-powered firearms on board the vessel MV CAPTAIN UFUK that arrived at the anchorage area of the Port of Mariveles, Bataan. Found inside five wooden crates were 50 pieces of SS1-V1 Cal 5.56 A1 assault rifles that were made in Indonesia, 120 empty magazines, and 45 bayonets. Fifteen other wooden crates believed to have contained firearms were already empty at the time of the search. MV Capt Ufuk’s skipper was also believed to have escaped on board the yacht. With this information on hand, all Coast Guard units were alerted to be on the lookout for MY Mou Man Tai. After five days of intense intel work and relentless patrols, PCG operatives nabbed MY Mou Man Tai captain Derek Colin Gordon Neville and shortly after the vessel was spotted anchored in Puerto Galera in Occidental Mindoro. Neville admitted that his yacht was used by MV Capt Ufuk skipper Bruce Jones to depart from MV Captain UFUK.
Working closely with PDEA counterparts in carrying out an all-out war against drugs, PCG operatives apprehended 17 suspected drug traffickers and seized some Php306,000 worth of illegal drugs and paraphernalia in 2008. Between January and July this year, PCG operatives have already exceeded the previous year’s achievement in counternarcotics by seizing some Php432,500 worth of illegal drugs and paraphernalia and arresting five suspects. PCG-PDEA collaboration culminated two years ago with the seizure of a record-breaking PHP46 million worth of illegal drugs in Batangas. This alliance is continuously being strengthened bya string of operations jointly undertaken by the two agencies. The synergy of the two forces once again came to play in a buy-bust entrapment in Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga leading to the arrest of 17 suspects and confiscation of 900 grams of ephedrine in October 2008.
The PCG is at the forefront of organizations seeking to protect minors from being trafficked to Manila for illegal work, more specifically, prostitution or domestic work. The young victims from the provinces are enticed by recruiters to leave their homes and work in Manila. Once the recruiter and his young victims disembark from a ferry at the port of Manila, authorities will have difficulties in tracking them down. This is why Coast Guard personnel patrol passenger decks looking for minors, usually young girls who seem to be alone or accompanied by suspicious characters, to see whether they are falling victims to human traffickers. PCG personnel make the most of the three opportunities that they have to immediately intercept human traffickers: during embarkation, while en route, and during disembarkation. In 2008, PCG personnel rescued 31 victims of human trafficking. Between January and July this year, the number of victims rescued has reached 28.
The illegal fishing situation in the country is aggravated by the fact that even foreign vessels risk arrest to plunder Philippine waters. Under Philippine laws, the use and exploitation of the fishery and aquatic resources in Philippine waters is reserved exclusively to Filipinos. PCG-BFAR operating forces continue to engage these offenders of fishery laws regardless of their nationalities. In 2008, five Indonesians, four Vietnamese, and ten Filipinos were arrested in separate anti-poaching operations. In February 2009, PCG operating forces caught up with Fishing Vessel Karya Wijaya and found 200 pieces of tuna, each weighing 25-35 kilos, on board. The operatives thereafter arrested 11 Indonesian and 2 Taiwanese poachers.
MAJOR ACTIVITIES Securing International Vessels at Malalag Bay
Sustained sea patrols are being carried out by PCG seaborne forces in the waters at Malalag Bay where dozens of international vessels are laid up to avoid additional cost as a result of the steep decline of cargo volumes due to the global economic slowdown. Ensuring the safety of the vessels at Malalag Bay will entice more international vessel owners to lay up their vessels in Philippine waters which will generate revenues for the government and stimulate economic activities in surrounding areas.
Securing the Malampaya Deep Water Gas to Power Project
The security of the Malampaya Deep Water Gas to Power Project is among the PCG’s priority operations. In order to protect substantial private investments and preserve energy security for the country, certain waters, submerged lands and foreshore areas are reserved as safety and exclusion zones. Accordingly, PCG forces carry out sustained patrols in the area which covers hundreds of kilometers of submerged pipeline from Ilin Point to Batangas.
The Philippine Coast Guard has evolved into a multi-mission service responding to a wide spectrum of maritime concerns; and its approach to maritime challenges has been characterized by collaboration with various stakeholders in the public and private sectors in the Philippines. Because the Philippine Coast Guard recognizes the central role of maritime security in sustaining the Philippine Government’s effort to fasttrack the country’s economic development, the Organization will continue to promote the sustainable use of marine resources and make sure that people and goods can traverse Philippine waters safely.
By: CDR TEOTIMO R BORJA JR PCG
The author, a Master in Maritime Affairs degree
holder from the World Maritime University in Sweden,
is the Deputy Chief of Coast Guard Staff for Intelligence.