Senator Chiz Escudero reminded the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of the “promissory note” attached to its P5.6 billion budget this year that it would step up safety inspections of sea vessels and cut down mishaps by the country’s 9,574-strong merchant fleet.
Escudero, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, said “the targets, to begin with, are already very low, so there’s no excuse on why they can’t be met.”
Under the “performance indicators” affixed to the PCG budget in Republic Act 10651, or the 2015 National Budget, the agency vowed to cut maritime accidents by “5 percent, or from 264 in 2013 to 251 this year.”
As to other “maritime incidents,” the Coast Guard promised to bring it down to 517 from 544, or a 5-percent reduction, Escudero said.
Escudero said the agency, which is attached to the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) also committed to slash marine pollution accidents to 32 percent from 35 percent.
“Limang porsyento na bawas sa bilang ng mga aksidente lang ang hinihingi sa PCG, siguro naman kaya nilang tupdin iyon,” Escudero said.
But the Bicolano lawmaker said the PCG should have set a higher target considering “the volume of maritime traffic in this archipelagic country of ours.”
“There were close to 50 million shipping passengers last year. In addition to our merchant fleet, there are 9,437 fishing boats and 202 million tons of cargo passed through our ports in 2013,” Escudero said.
“All of the above point to the need to keep our nautical highway safe. And the Coast Guard has a great role to play in seeing to it that indeed it is,” he said.
Escudero, however, conceded that “given the large territory it has to patrol on ships, which are not only few but old, the Coast Guard needs beefing up in both personnel and equipment.”
For 2015, the PCG claims it will patrol 59,088 kilometers of Philippine coasts in addition to doing traffic cop duties on 11,285 kilometers of shipping lanes.
“If it needs more personnel, then it should fill up the 1,037 vacant positions in its plantilla,” Escudero said.
PCG has an authorized troop ceiling of 7,730, but only 6,693 of these positions are filled.
He said a Coast Guard Modernization Program should also be “drafted, legislated and funded.”
“One that is legislated is preferable because it is binding, and funding-wise, a law can authorize multiyear funding obligations. Kasi ang modernization, lalo na kung gugugol ng bilyun-bilyon ay hindi pwede matapos sa isang taon lang,” Escudero said
One component of a PCG modernization program, he stressed, is the acquisition of “air assets which are needed in search-and-rescue operations.”
“Dapat nating natandaan na sa hindi lang barko ang dumadaan sa ating shipping lanes, pati bagyo dumaraan din. Kaya maraming distress calls na natatanggap ang Coast Guard,” Escudero said.