MANILA — Unless is gets more ships, the Philippine Coast Guard can commit to increased presence in areas of the West Philippine Sea like Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) but constant patrols would be unrealistic, a spokesperson for the agency said.
Speaking to TeleRadyo Serbisyo on Monday morning, Commodore Jay Tarriela — PCG spokesperson on the West Philippine Sea — said the Coast Guard can conduct "regular but not constant" patrols given its current fleet size.
"Regular but not constant kasi we have to be realistic with our limited resources. It’s not just Bajo de Masinloc that we're patrolling," he said.
Sustained patrol at Bajo de Masinloc
He said that Coast Guard Admiral Artemio Abu has committed the PCG to ensuring the safety of fisherfolk at Bajo de Masinloc.
"We believe it is better to sustain our patrol dito sa Bajo de Masinloc while, at the same time, nabibigyan natin ng presensya ang PCG dyan at nasusuportahan ang pangingisda ng mga Pilipino," he said.
"Yung presence ng ating vessel ay nakakapagbigay ng confidence sa ating mga mangingisda na magpunta uli dito."
(We are able to maintain PCG presence and support Filipino fishing activities. Our vessel's presence there gives fishers confidence to go to Bajo de Masinloc.)
In a statement in late September, Masinloc, Zambales-based Bigkis ng Mangingisda Federation condemned Chinese incursions into the traditional fishing ground.
"We urge the government to level up its efforts in reclaiming what is rightfully ours by asserting Philippine sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea," the group also said.
More resources needed
Tarriela said Monday that the Coast Guard fleet is too small to conduct round-the-clock patrols.
He said the PCG currently only has three large Offshore Patrol Vessels and ten 44-meter Multi-Role Response Vessels.
Ideally, he said, the Coast Guard should have at least four OPVs each to patrol Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and around three to five to keep an eye on the West Philippine Sea.
The PCG also needs smaller boats and support ships like buoy tenders, he said.
Apart from patrols in the West Philippine Sea, the Coast Guard also has to maintain a presence in the waters off the Zamboanga Peninsula, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to protect sea lanes there.
"There are a lot of areas that we have to cover," he said.
Tarriela added that the Coast Guard also needs more resources for its core functions, which include maritime safety, responding to maritime pollution, and maritime law enforcement.
House leaders last week said they would reallocate some confidential funds in the proposed national budget to the PCG and to other agencies watching over the West Philippine Sea.