WHEN calamities strike, who can we call?
The Philippine Coast Guard!
Its members are always on the forefront when calamities strike, ready to save lives.
But besides being the national maritime search and rescue service of the Philippines, the Coast Guard is also tasked to enforce maritime laws, maritime safety and security, as well as environmental protection.
In a country situated at the typhoon belt in the Pacific, the Coast Guard plays a key role in disaster mitigation. Its Action Center in Manila serves as the coordinating hub for all search and rescue operations.
The twelve Coast Guard Districts are designated as Maritime Rescue Coordinating Councils (MRCC) while the 59 Coast Guard Stations are the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centers (MRSC). The detachments under these stations are designated as search and rescue units.
Its watch centers operate 24/7, monitoring distress frequencies and conducting coastal foot and seaborne patrol. There is at least one division or squadron of Coast Guard Auxiliary in each MRSC where assistance can be obtained when required.
Also, at least one Deployable Response Team composed of Special Operations Group, Medical Team, K-9 and rescue swimmers are organized at each Coast Guard District or MRCC which can be dispatched immediately for maritime and land-based search and rescue operations.
“We are a uniformed armed service that implements and enforces all national and international maritime safety, security, search and rescue, and marine environmental protection laws in support of the integrated Maritime Transportation Network objectives, national security and economic development of the Philippines,” rear Admiral William Melad, PCG commandant, said.
A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1983, Melad previously commanded major units of the Coast Guard before he took his oath on January 21 this year as the 26th Coast Guard commander.
He used to be the district commander of Coast Guard District in Central Visayas; Coast Guard District in Eastern Visayas in acting capacity, Coast Guard District Southern Tagalog; Guard District Western Visayas and Coast Guard District Northern Luzon.
A holder of Masters of Science Degree in Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) from the Word Maritime University (WMU) in Malmo, Sweden, Melad is also the commander of coast guard education and training command and the chief of the Coast Guard Staff.
After being commissioned in the Philippine Navy in 1983, he was assigned to navy vessels which patrolled the areas of West Philippine Sea, Palawan, Bicol and Southern Luzon.
Melad was also assigned as Operations Officer of the Presidential Yacht (BRP Ang Pangulo) in 1987. He commanded three Coast Guard Search and Rescue Vessels which are the primary ship for operations of the Coast Guard namely: BRP San Juan (SARV 001), BRP EDSA II (SARV 002) and BRP Nueva Vizcaya (SARV 3502) where he earned the most coveted Command-At-Sea-Badge.
As President Benigno Aquino 3rd steps down in June, the next administration faces the challenge of continuing the transformation of the Coast Guard into a “world class guardian of the sea” committed to save lives, ensure safe maritime transport, cleaner seas, and secure maritime jurisdiction.
The next administration is also expected to continue to push the Coast Guard modernization program that will improve its capabilities.
An agency attached to the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), one of the delicate tasks of the Coast Guard is maritime safety or MARSAF, particularly guarding the country from the entry of suspicious foreign vessels through its Port State Control (PSC).
At present, the Coast Guard has seven PSC centers and 15 PSC divisions nationwide. The PSC center in Manila has the bulk of all inspections based on frequency of foreign ship calls.
Pursuant to Republic Act A 9993, the Coast Guard is mandated to enforce regulations in accordance with all relevant maritime international conventions, treaties or instruments of which the government is signatory and national laws.
Considered as the country’s third armed and uniformed service, the PCG has the delicate task of law enforcement, implementing laws on fisheries and poaching, immigration, tariff and customs, forestry, firearms and explosives, human trafficking, dangerous drugs and controlled chemicals. It also fights transnational crimes.
As law enforces, PCG members are authorized to board and inspect all watercrafts suspected to be involved in or used in illegal trade. They are also deemed agents of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the bureaus of Immigration and Customs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the International Police (INTERPOL) in the performance of its law enforcement functions.
As deputized by 21 government agencies, it is also involved in the fight against piracy, smuggling, poaching, illegal fishing, illegal entry, human smuggling, illegal logging, drug trafficking, gun running and terrorist activities.
Following the M/V Super Ferry 14 bombing in 2004, the Coast Guard teamed up with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) and acted as Sea Marshals to ferries plying domestic routes.
Complementing the Sea Marshal Program is the K-9 unit composed of highly trained sniffing dogs deployed in major ports.
In performing its maritime security function, the Coast Guard conducts regular patrols and surveillance for the safety of navigation of ships, to safeguard ships from illegal acts and to promote freedom of navigation. It is also mandated to secure exploration and resource utilization activities within the country’s maritime jurisdiction.
And like its counterpart in the Philippine Navy, the Coast Guard has its own special forces unit called Coast Guard’s Special Operations Group (CGSOG) that performs underwater and other maritime military operations similar to the Navy’s Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG) or the Philippine Navy Seals.