Seafarers and passengers of commercial ships approaching seaports in the Philippines should not be surprised when they see armed government personnel.
The Philippine government through the Department of Transportation has ordered the Philippine Coast Guard to take over security operations in all 1,600 public and private ports throughout the country.
The ports were previously under the control of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), and the Coast Guard now has the power to arrest and detain people, cargo and vessels violating Philippine laws and can file the charges in court.
The sudden order was issued by transportation minister Arthur Tugade in response to possible threats that local terrorists, colluding with other ASEAN terrorists, will be targeting Philippine ports for terror attacks. The Indonesia government had previously reported that there are 1,200 ISIS fighters in the Philippines who threaten public places, including seaports.
The order, which took effect June 5, allows the 12 coast guard districts and 54 coast guard stations to take full responsibility for preventing terror threats in the nation's ports. The order will remain in effect until July 22, the last day Mindanao's 60-day martial law declared by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. The president can then choose to extend the order.
Filipino Captain Allan Bayabos of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement told The Maritime Executive that the Coast Guard takeover has advantages and disadvantages. Ports will be more secure, but the Coast Guard may lack experience in some port operational matters, and it lacks the manpower to supervise all the ports.
“The rigid coast guard inspection of incoming vessels into the port might also take time that might eventually affect the expected time of arrivals of ships,” Bayabos added.