A total of 27 patrol and high-speed boats that will be procured by the Philippines from Japan between this year and possibly beyond 2018 under deals sealed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent official visit to Tokyo would significantly shore up security and border patrol capabilities of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), especially in running after drug smugglers, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists and pirates who prey on foreign and local seafarers in southern Mindanao, according to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd.
Given the porous shoreline that spans 36,289 kilometers throughout the archipelago, Dominguez on Thursday said in a statement that the PCG is in dire need of first-rate boats to better guard Philippine shores and the high seas that the country shares with its neighbors against narco traffickers who peddle their drugs here or use the country as a trans-shipment point for their contraband and also against ASG terrorists and bandits who kidnap or rob sailors at gunpoint.
Indonesian suppliers recently stopped their deliveries of coal to power-generation plants in the South because of a spate of ASG-orchestrated kidnappings of Indonesians who run tugboats and coal-laden barges bound for Mindanao through maritime borders that the Philippines shares with Indonesia and Malaysia.
Preliminary talks on transforming Davao City international port terminal into a trans-shipment hub for cargos destined for Japan, China and other neighboring countries from a consolidation port in Indonesia have fallen through because Indonesian authorities were cool to prospects for such shipments to pass through ASG-infested Philippine waters.
“Our government’s acquisition of these patrol vessels and high-speed boats would give a big boost to our Coast Guard’s capabilities in securing our waters,” Dominguez said, who was the signatory, along with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) president Shinichi Kitaoka, to a 16.5-billion yen loan covering the purchase of two 94-meter large-scale patrol ships for the PCG’s use.
Equivalent to P6.8 billion, this Official Development Assistance or ODA loan deal signed by Dominguez and Kitaoka was among the five agreements that were signed by Manila and Tokyo officials during President Duterte’s visit to Japan.
Acquired at a concessional interest rate of between 0.01 percent and 0.10 percent and payable in 40 years (inclusive of a 10-year grace period), this package is part of Tokyo’s continuing assistance to the PCG under Phase 2 of its Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project (MSCIP).
The signing of the 16.5-billion yen loan was witnessed by Duterte and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The PCG is getting ten 40-meter patrol vessels from Japan under Phase 1 of its MSCIP.
The first of these boats was delivered to the PCG in August, the second one is expected to be handed over to the Coast Guard this December and the rest are due for delivery between next year and August 2018.
Tokyo has also announced the provision of additional vessels for the PCG through a 600-million yen (about P280 million) grant for the procurement of high-speed boats and other equipment to boost the Philippines’ anti-terrorism and security activities.
This additional package includes one 20-meter high-speed and fourteen 11-meter high-speed boats.
This means that inclusive of the two large-scale patrol vessels that the Coast Guard is getting under the JICA deal signed by Dominguez and Kitaoka, the PCG is getting 27 boats under Phases 1 and 2 of the MSCIP and through an additional grant from Tokyo to strengthen Manila’s anti-terrorist, security and border patrol capabilities.
Duterte told reporters on Tuesday that dealing with the “deteriorating peace and order” in waters between the Philippines and Malaysia will top the agenda of his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during his visit to Kuala Lumpur next week.
The meeting, he said, will cover border control, border crossing “and, maybe, joint military and police operations.”
“There is a need for us, the three countries–Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia–to talk about this seriously and to put a stop because it has somehow paralyzed the trade and commerce in that area,” the President added.
Duterte discussed security matters with President Widodo during his recent visit to Indonesia.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has confirmed abductions of 17 Indonesian sailors in separate incidents in March-April and of seven more Indonesians in the Sulu Sea in June.
Media reports said three Indonesian fishermen were also seized by suspected ASG militants in July in an abduction that once again underlined the weak security in the Celebes Sea that borders the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Also in July, the Philippine National Police intercepted off Subic, Zambales a foreign vessel suspected of being a floating laboratory for manufacturing shabu (methampetamine hydrochloride).
According to the media reports, the PCG has bared plans to start inspecting–with the assistance of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)–all local and international vessels in waters off General Santos City and the provinces of Davao, Sarangani and Agusan, in keeping with President Duterte’s war on illicit drugs.
An estimated 70 foreign fishing boats reportedly berth daily in different southeastern Mindanao ports. RAADEE S. SAUSA