DOTr chief eyes enhanced ties with US

Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 21 2022 07:32 PM

Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista, whose department oversees the Philippine Coast Guard, has declined to address the weekend incident involving Chinese coast guard and the Philippine navy near Pag-asa island.

Bautista, who spoke on the promotion of a rules-based international order to ensure maritime security in the Indo-Pacific at the Pilipinas Conference 2022 of the Stratbase ADR institute, said he has yet to be briefed on the incident.

On Monday, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos accused the Chinese Coast Guard of ‘forcefully’ seizing an floating object the Philippine Navy had been towing towards Philippines' Pag-asa Island. The allegations were made just before a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris.

Bautista said questions on the incident are better addressed to the Department of National Defense.

"The Philippine Coast Guard is not really involved in defense, the primary responsibility of the Philippine Coast Guard is for maritime safety, maritime security, protection of the marine environment, search and rescue operation during calamities. Those are the main mission and objectives of the Philippine Coast Guard,” Bautista told reporters. 

Bautista, however, said it is important for the Philippines to expand its cooperation with as many nations as possible to ensure maritime security.

“We really welcome arrangements, and cooperation with international organizations for maritime safety and security. I think it is very important that we collaborate with more countries, more agencies, for us to be able to ensure maritime safety and security in Philippine waters, because this will also help our ships that traverse over Philippine and international waters to be secured and safe. It is good really that we work with other agencies, so that the transport of goods and services are protected and are ensured that we will be able to bring this to the right destination," he said. 

While no new agreements are expected to be signed with the US during Harris’ visit, Bautista expect existing agreements to be enhanced. 

“We have been working with the US Coast Guard, they have been giving us assistance in terms of training. So we will continue the arrangement with the US Coast Guard, and hopefully enhance and improve what the existing arrangements are.” 

PH EXPLORING MORE COOPERATION WITH AUSTRALIA

Bautista added they are exploring more cooperation with Australia. “We will have to discuss this further with the Australian agencies. In fact I had some discussions with the acting Ambassador, and hopefully we can improve this.” 

Acting Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Richard Sisson shared Bautista’s enthusiasm regarding the expansion of multilateral cooperation, particularly in the enforcement of maritime rules such as those under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 

"One way or another everyone, everyone here today, has benefitted from the international rules based order, and it is so important for middle powers like Australia and the Philippines, and yet it has come under increasing pressure in recent years," he said. 

“That rules-based order has not only been eroded, it is being directly and openly challenged. Global institutions are under pressure. There are tensions over territorial claims. We have seen an escalation to the point of invasion in the Ukraine. Cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated. Disinformation and foreign interference are being used to manipulate societies, and protectionism and economic coercion are on the rise," he added. 

Sisson also said Australia is ready and willing to expand cooperation with the Philippines.

"Australia is an open economy deeply enmeshed in the global trading system. 83 percent of our merchandise trade is carried by sea, and most of it, comes through the South China Sea. About 70 percent of it passes through the Sulu sea. The stats alone should suggest to you, reveal to you, just why maritime law is so important to Australia, and why the Philippines is so important to Australia." 

STRENGTHENING PCG

Meanwhile, Bautista said he has the backing of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to pursue the strengthening of the PCG.

"The President supports the modernization program of the Philippine Coast Guard. Because we have 36,000 kilometers of sea shore that need to be protected. It is important that we enhance the capability of the Philippine Coast Guard, not only in terms of manpower, but in terms of assets and equipments.”