SECURITY experts on Sunday urged the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to prioritize the modernization of the Philippine Coast Guard amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The Coast Guard needs bigger vessels as the government plans joint patrols with other nations in South China Sea, Chester B. Cabalza, founding president of Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“Larger and state-of-the-art coast guard vessels are important to safeguard the country’s maritime boundaries and domains,” he said.
Last month, a senior Filipino diplomat said the Philippines was in talks to include Japan and Australia in its planned joint sea patrols with the United States.
The Philippine fleet has only three vessels that can conduct long-range patrols, Naval News author Aaron-Matthew Lariosa said in a tweet. It only has small vessels used for other missions.
“The Philippines relies heavily on internal waterways for the country to function, so it’s really hard to imagine how the Philippine Coast Guard is supposed to do its job properly for a nation of over 7,000 islands with the current fleet,” he said, noting that recent maritime conflicts between the Philippines and China have highlighted “the inadequacy of the existing fleet composition.”
Raymond Powell, a fellow at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, on Sunday said the Coast Guard’s BRP Malapascua was met by a Chinese Coast Guard ship near Sabina Shoal on Mar. 11 as the Philippine vessel supported a resupply mission at the Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin.
Small resupply mission boats supported by BRP Malapascua “likely had to run a gauntlet” of at least four People’s Republic of China vessels, including two Chinese Coast Guard ships and two maritime militia ships,” Mr. Powell tweeted.
The Mar. 11 incident was not the first this month. On Mar. 7, the Philippine Coast Guard said more than 40 Chinese vessels, including a Chinese Navy ship, had been roaming near Thitu Island, Manila’s biggest outpost in the South China Sea.
The Philippines has accused China’s coast guard of endangering a resupply ship by pointing a military-grade laser in an incident that has stoked long-running tensions over China’s expansive claims in the waterway.
Mr. Cabalza said coast guard modernization involves more hardware, bigger vessels for maritime patrols and visibility and more software and workers. “Reorganization of the coast guard must also be reviewed to address the gaps in its greater mandate on maritime security.”
“The Philippine Coast Guard is particularly underresourced considering we are a coastal nation,” Michael Henry L. Yusingco, a policy analyst, said in a Messenger chat.
He said it is only a cog in a network of stakeholders in protecting Philippine coasts and seas. “To be truly effective, this network has to be anchored on a coherent and comprehensive maritime policy, which unfortunately we currently don’t have. Assessing the Philippine Coast Guard on its own merit may be misleading us.”
He said it is doing the best it can considering the circumstances.
The coast guard has intensified its strategy of publicizing aggressive actions by China in the South China Sea, which Mr. Cabalza said is far more effective than diplomatic protests.
In 2022, the Philippines filed 195 diplomatic protests against China. Ten new protests have also been filed this year as of Feb. 27, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“The ‘tell all’ strategy and transparency are stronger means to expose Chinese aggression and incursion in the West Philippine Sea to the world,” Mr. Cabalza said. “It records all the irregularities and gray zone strategy of China.”
Mr. Yusingco said the strategy’s main objective “should always be to inform the people of what’s happening to our maritime sector.”
“The public deserves to know everything that is happening that impacts our coasts and seas,” he said. “If doing this also galvanizes support from the international community, then well and good.”