Members of the Philippine Coast Guard patrol Manila Bay prior to the 2017 ASEAN summit. (Philippine Coast Guard)
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is the third uniformed armed service branch in the Philippines. Housed under the Department of Transportation, it is that nation’s only humanitarian armed service. The PCG currently is led by Rear Admiral Elson E. Hermogino, who was appointed the 27th Commandant of the PCG in January 2018, succeeding Commodore Joel S. Garcia. Hermogino previously served in a variety of major commands within the PCG, including three coast guard districts and three search-and-rescue vessels.
According to its official website, the missions of the PCG include:
• Maritime safety
• Maritime security
• Maritime search and rescue
• Maritime law enforcement
• Marine environmental protection
Headquartered in the capital city of Manila on the island of Luzon, the PCG is organized into 13 coast guard districts throughout the archipelago. Subordinate units reporting to the various coast guard district headquarters include 7 port-state control centers, 15 port-state control center divisions, and 59 coast guard stations that are designated as maritime rescue subcenters. The PCG operates a fleet of search-and-rescue vessels, support ships, patrol craft, small boats, utility aircraft, and helicopters, as well as 565 lighthouses and 44 navigational buoys.
The PCG’s organizational history is similar to that of the U.S. Coast Guard. It has been transferred to and from one government bureau or the navy several times throughout its history. The roots of the PCG can be traced to an October 1901 law establishing the Bureau of the Coast Guard and Transportation. It later was placed under the Department of Commerce and Police. After several additional reorganizations, it became a unit of the Philippine Navy in 1967, where it served until being transferred to the Department of Transportation in 1998.
The Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA) is a reliable partner of the PCG. Its mission is to “assist the PCG in the promotion of safety of life and property at sea.” It is a volunteer organization much like the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and was established in 1972. Today, it is headed by Vice Admiral Beethoven N. Sur, the eighth national director of the PCGA.
At present, the PCG is embarked on a military buildup to counter the growing threats of piracy, terrorism, and Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea. The service’s 2018 budget was 6.7 billion pesos (equivalent to U.S. $126 million). In addition to a variety of new platforms in its acquisition pipeline, including patrol boats from Japan, the PCG’s end-strength was increased by 4,000 billets this year, from 8,930 to 12,930.
Recent statements by President Rodrigo Duterte indicate that the PCG is on track to achieve its 2028 goal of being “a world class guardian of the sea committed to save lives, ensure safe maritime transport, cleaner seas, and secure maritime jurisdiction.” This is no small feat given that the Philippines has 7,641 islands and an exclusive economic zone totaling more than 874,000 square miles.
U.S. Coast Guard–PCG cooperation is a model for defense cooperation. This was evident during the March 2018 visit to the Philippines by the former commander of the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area Command, Vice Admiral Fred M. Midgette. The PCG posted on Facebook, “The aim of the visit is to discuss potential areas where the USCG may further enhance the cooperation with the PCG and to strengthen ties among the two coast guards.”
Mr. Dolbow is editor of The Coast Guardsman’s Manual, 11th edition, and The U.S. Naval Institute on the United States Coast Guard, both published by the Naval Institute Press; a senior acquisitions editor for professional development content at the U.S. Naval Institute; and a fleet professor for the U.S. Naval War College.