Sunday, January 01, 2012

Government Tightens Maritime Security, Establishes National Coast Watch System

President Benigno S. Aquino III has expanded the country’s naval security operations to preserve the Philippine territory and protect its people and resources from maritime threats.

According to Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa, Jr. President Aquino signed Executive Order No. 57, which calls for the creation of the National Coast Watch System (NCWS), an initiative of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

According to Ochoa, who also chairs the Cabinet Security Cluster, NCWS will serve as the central inter agency mechanism for a more coordinated approach on maritime issues and security operations to enhance governance of the country’s maritime domain.

EO 57 expanded the scope of the Coast Watch South, primarily tasked to provide maritime security in Southern Philippines, to cover the entire archipelago. The presidential issuance abolished the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs (CMOA) created by virtue of EO No. 612 issued in 2007.

“In issuing EO 57, the President emphasized the government’s firm commitment to prioritize maritime security in the country, especially in the face of maritime challenges and threats such as terrorism, transnational crimes, drug and firearms trafficking, smuggling, human trafficking, climate change, illegal fishing, marine environment degradation and other security concerns”, Ochoa pointed out.

The new EO harmonizes the policies, programs, and activities on intelligence work, border control, interdiction and law enforcement of government agencies like the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, among others, for better maritime governance, Ochoa added.

Under EO 57, the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) shall be established and chaired by the Executive Secretary, with the secretaries of the DND, DoTC, DFA, DILG, DoJ, DoE, DoF,DENR, and DA as members.

As the central inter agency body, the NCWC will formulate strategic direction and policy guidance for the NCWS, specifically on maritime security operations and multinational and cross­-border cooperation on maritime security. The Council will also take over the mandate and functions of the CMOA.

The President directed the council to conduct periodic reviews of maritime security operations and submit periodic reports to the President and the National Security Council (NSC), and recommend policies and procedures in managing and securing the country’s maritime domain.

The chairperson is mandated to convene the NCWC at least twice a year or as often as deemed necessary and appropriate.

Technical and administrative assistance and support, including consultative research and administrative services, will be provided by the Coast Watch Council Secretariat headed by an Executive Director to be appointed by the NCWC head upon the recommendation of the council.

A National Coast Watch Center, headed by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), shall also be established under EO57 to implement and coordinate maritime security operations in accordance with the strategic direction and policy guidance to be issued by the council.

Manpower, equipment and material support to the National Coast Watch Center shall be provided by the PCG, the Philippine Navy, the Philippine National Police Maritime Group, National Prosecution Service of the DoJ, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Immigration, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime.

The initial funding of P20 million for the NCWS will come from the Special Account in the General Fund of the DoE, and thereafter be incorporated in the General Appropriations Act for funding.

EO 57, however, allows the council and the center to accept donations, contributions or grants from domestic or foreign sources subject to government accounting and auditing rules and regulations.

The council is directed to submit within 90 days from the issuance of EO 57 a report to the President on the implementation of the directive. /MP

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