Aquino forms National Coast Watch System

- Delon Porcalla -

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has formed the National Coast Watch System (NCWS) to expand the country’s naval security operations to preserve the Philippine territory and protect its people and resources from maritime threats.

Aquino signed Executive Order 57 on Sept. 6 that created the NCWS.

The NCWS was an initiative of the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said.

Ochoa, who heads the Cabinet security cluster, said NCWS would serve as the “central inter-agency mechanism for a more coordinated approach on maritime issues and maritime security operations to enhance governance of the country’s maritime domain.”

The executive order expanded the scope of the Coast Watch South, which was primarily tasked to provide maritime security operations in Southern Philippines, to cover the entire archipelago.

The presidential issuance also effectively abolished the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs (CMOA) created by virtue of EO 612 issued in 2007.

“In issuing EO 57, the President emphasizes 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 several government agencies such as the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group, among others, for better maritime governance, Ochoa said.

The Navy yesterday welcomed the executive order calling for a national coast watch system.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said this would boost their cooperation with agencies that oversee the country’s borders.

“We are thankful that this (order) has been signed by the President. We can formally implement the things we are doing to set up a national coast watch system,” Pama told radio dzBB.

“We have been doing this and with this executive order, we can formalize our cooperation with different agencies,” he added.

Pama said a monitoring system has been established in the south. He said efforts are underway to prepare for the establishment of the radar systems.

“We have not received directives but anytime, a meeting would be called to discuss this,” Pama said.

Under EO 57, the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) would be established and chaired by Ochoa, with the secretaries of the DND and the Departments of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Justice (DOJ), Energy (DOE), Finance (DOF), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Agriculture (DA) as members.

As the central inter-agency body, the NCWC will be in charge of formulating 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 him and the National Security Council (NSC), and recommend policies and procedures in managing and securing the country’s maritime domain.

The chairman 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, would be provided by the Coast Watch Council Secretariat, which will be 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 be established under EO 57 to implement and coordinate maritime security operations in accordance with the strategic direction and policy guidance to be issued by the council.

The PCG, Navy, the PNP-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 shall provide manpower, equipment and material support to the National Coast Watch Center.

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 initially directed to submit within 90 days from the issuance of EO 57 a report to the President on the implementation of the directive. –With Alexis Romero

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