Philippine Coast Guard — a force to be reckoned with

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2020 - 12:00am

October 1901 was when the Bureau of the Coast Guard and Transportation was created. It went through many transitions until the Philippine Congress in 1967 enacted RA 5173 or the Philippine Coast Guard Law making the PCG a major unit of the Philippine Navy. Today, the PCG marks its 119th year of service in the country.

As our country faces both natural and man-made disasters and threats, the PCG has always been at the frontlines of humanitarian armed services. They are closest to the people’s heart because they have always been there for the people and by the people.

Service to the country is what they have stood for all this time, setting aside politics in their work. During the Taal evacuation early this year, the Philippine Coast Guard were all around facilitating food drives, food caravans, transportation services, rescue, evacuations and debriefing programs in barangays.

Today, the PCG continues to be a force to reckon with as they work 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are especially concerned with the repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), not to mention balikbayans and foreign visitors.

According to Capt. Maricor Soliva, Deputy Commander of the Coast Guard Civil Relations Service and one of the Task Force Commanders involved with the ROFs, as early as February 2020, the Philippine government had taken measures to evacuate its citizens. This included the repatriation of 2.2 million overseas Filipinos from various countries arriving by land and sea as well as the transport of our locally stranded individuals (LSIs).

On Feb. 9, 2020, the first batch of at least 26 Filipino repatriates from China’s Hubei province was repatriated. They were accommodated at the Athletes’ Village in Capas, Tarlac for the required 14-day quarantine. In the same month, two batches of more than 800 repatriated cruise ship personnel followed. On Feb. 25, 2020, 445 Filipino crew members from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan were repatriated; while 444 Filipinos (438 crew members and six passengers) from the MV Grand Princess were repatriated on March 16, 2020.

The role of the Philippine Coast Guard was intensified with the approval of IATF for cruise ships carrying Filipino seafarers to anchor at Manila Bay. Initially, the PCG’s function was to supervise disembarkation of seafarers from the cruise ships while the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) would take care of their 14-day quarantine. But when the number of returning OFWs to be tested and quarantined increased, the IATF created the Sub-Task Group for Repatriation of OFWs, headed by the PCG Commandant. Having the logistical capability, running the OFWs quarantine facilities, among others, the PCG carried out the prompt testing, immediate mobility and transportation requirements.

How did the PCG do it? They were very systematic.  Their hard work, determination and dedication paid off. In the 1st Phase, the PCG promulgated biosafety protocols and workload algorithm for strict observance of all personnel, established a working routine/work schedule for all PCG personnel. In the 2nd Phase (organize and equip), they had a total of 168 new recruits of registered medical technologists: 1st Batch – 53, 2nd Batch-95 and 3rd Batch-20. They made sure that all its personnel are protected. Thus, a PCG Task Group Resource Management and Logistics was created to provide resources, equipment and administrative and logistical requirements in support of the operations.

The Task Group RT-PCR had 28 deployable response teams: For the Task Group RT-PCR alone, there were 28 deployable response teams distributed at the airport, Palacio de Manila, mobile teams, Philippine Red Cross and 3,484 personnel for the Task Force.

In the 3rd Phase (Training), the DOH trained 12 medical technologists of the Coast Guard plus four other line officers who are graduates of BS Medical Technology and were deployed as part of Task Group Bayanihan OFW.  The 4th Phase was the operation of the one-stop-shop in airport terminals. Palacio de Manila tent with 65 testing booths and manned by trained swabbers, 20 encoders and 10 runners started operation 24/7 with three shifts under the management of the PCG. The three other mega swabbing centers managed by the PCG are at The Mall of Asia Arena Center and the Philippine Arena.

The 5th Phase is focused on evaluating responses from help desks, feedback forms and social media which are then documented as lessons learned. The analysis produced during the evaluation process is critical for a task unit command’s decision-making process when refining plans, enhancing training, determining equipment needs and employing technology.

The PCG converted the Eva Macapagal Terminal and two floating facilities into COVID-19 facilities which could accommodate approximately 1,000 OFWs. They also unselfishly made available PCG buses and vessels for the transport of OFWs and LSIs from the airport or seaports to various quarantine facilities or hotel accommodations, to the different islands and provinces.

The BRP Gabriela Silang, the most recent and largest acquired boat from France, is currently used to transit LSIs, police officers and medical supplies for frontliners to provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao. PCG helicopters (2) and airplanes (2) are used in transporting personal protective equipment sets and medical supplies in various cities and provinces across the country. To date, the PCG has 1(84) meters and 24 Offshore Patrol Vessel, 10 (44) meters Multi-role Response Vessels, several aluminum meter patrol boats distributed across 15 districts. I hope the new 2021 budget supports their call for the PCG’s modernization plan in acquiring more vessels.

Last Saturday, the PCG led by Admiral George V. Ursabia Jr., along with his 16,000-work force (officers/ non-officers), inaugurated its own quarantine facility at the Coast Guard Base in Taguig. True to his good nature and genuine care, Adm Ursabia has offered the facility for anyone who needs their help and care.

“Disasters and health emergencies can come without warning. As such we need to ensure that drills are carried out and rapid response measures are ready for these future disasters – including pandemics,” according to Capt. Soliva.

The PCG still has a long way to go in terms of helping the repatriates return to their homes, but knowing the kind of work they do, the efficiency, the personal sacrifices they make and their conviction, we should be assured by their presence.

As the PCG celebrates its 119th anniversary with the theme, “Transformation Amidst These Challenging Times,” I salute the invaluable contribution of each PCG personnel in their commitment to public service. Mabuhay kayong lahat!

COAST GUARD
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