Bigger Coast Guard Budget Pressed

MANILA, Philippines - The severe lack of rescue vessels and equipment that hampered rescue efforts in flooded areas of Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon the past several days served to highlight the need for government to augment the budget of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

In its 2011 audit report released just the other day, the Commission on Audit recommended a bigger budget for PCG to enable it to effectively perform its primary functions of safeguarding the country's waters and spearhead rescue efforts in times of emergencies and calamities.

The audit showed that almost half of the PCG's watercraft fleet was "not ready for sea" (NRFS).

Inspections made by the audit team at the Coast Guards offices in Manila, Cavite and Zamboanga City showed only eight of 14 ships are in service.

Of the six that are grounded, COA said four are considered "mothballed."

Auditors found that 12 of 33 small sea craft used by PCG are non-operational, six of which were already too rust-eaten to be of any use.

"The mothballed floating assets, whose net book value could not be determined because of the absence of documents, appeared to be beyond economical repair. To effectively perform its power and function, PCG has to maintain ships and aircrafts which should be readily available at all times," the COA said.

It recommended that the mothballed ships and small watercraft should be sold for scrap to raise money to buy usable boats.

"These boats are no longer used by PCG. At present, these ships/small craft just occupy space in piers and a burden to PCG because personnel need to be assigned in the area to guard these assets. Mothballed assets will be better disposed of immediately, rather than left to further corrode," the COA said.

COA said if the proceeds of such sale prove insufficient, PCG should request for additional funding from the government.

PCG management said it is already undertaking an evaluation of the moth-balled part of its fleet for formal decommissioning and eventual disposal in accordance with government procedures.

The sorry state of the PCG fleet was evident on Tuesday's drenching and inundation that wreaked havoc in Metro Manila where they scrambled to rescue several flood victims.

They had limited resources from rubber boats, M35 trucks, deployable search and rescue vessels and even small watercrafts.

Only one out of its Islander plane was functioning, only one out of two helicopters serviceable, one out of its three M35 trucks was operable, and only two out of its four units 56-meter search and rescue vessels were deployable.

But there are small consolations: all of its four units of 35-meter vessel are working and the 10 units of the monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) ships, jointly operated by the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), could also be utilized.

Coast Guard Commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan said the PCG should have more search and rescue equipment when asked to give an assessment about their readiness to respond in case of disasters.

"We cannot just say that we would not take any action because we have no equipment. So we have to make do with what we have," he said.

In 2011, the budget allocated to PCG was increased from P2 to P3 billion to build up its operational and administrative capabilities.

A year after, Coast Guard operations were still reeling from outdated equipment that had been rendered inutile by wear and tear.

To put an end to its long-time state of neglect, the PCG will finally undergo the major facelift this year with the P521-million modernization program of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC).

Coast Guard Public Affairs chief Lieutenant Commander Armando Balilo said the PCG allocated P32 million for the purchase of 40 new rubber boats which they hope to acquire in two months time.

Of these rubber boats, about five to eight would be given to their divers belonging to the Special Operations Group while the rest would be equally divided among the 12 PCG districts.

The PCG is set to acquire 300 Aluminum V-shaped hull boats (AFBH), with the Southern Tagalog getting 47 units.

The Bicol Region will get 40 while the National Capital Region-Central Luzon (NCR-CL) and Palawan will get 28 units each.

Other PCG districts that will benefit are Western Visayas (25 units); South Eastern Mindanao (21 units); Northern Mindanao (NM) and South Western Mindanao (20 units each) ; Central Visayas (19 units);Northern Eastern Luzon and Western Luzon (18 units each ); and Eastern Visayas (16 units).

Some 81 rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) will also be procured with Palawan and Southern Luzon receiving 10 units each ; North Eastern Luzon and South Western Mindanao; 8 units each; NCR-Central Luzon and Bicol, 7 units each ; Western Visayas and Northern Mindanao 6 units each.

The PCG is also set to acquire six jet skis, among others.