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.
Security in Operation
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.
The Battle Against Terror Continues
Early this week, security forces also arrested a bomb expert from the local Maute terrorist group which has been battling Philippine soldiers in Marawi City for nearly four weeks.
The suspect was identified as Mohammad Maute, alias Abu Jadid, from Cagayan de Oro City. Cagayan de Oro City is one of the cities where the U.S. will be building military facilities to accommodate U.S. soldiers as a result of the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
In 2015, Abu Sayyaf terror group moved to maritime attacks when they felt pressure from military offensives on the ground. When Duterte won the presidency, he deployed 10,000 soldiers to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf on or before June 30 this year.
Two maritime terrorist leaders Abu Misaya and Abu Rami were killed in two separate incidents by pursuing security forces this year. The men, members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, had launched series of maritime attacks and kidnap for ransom activities in the Mindanao Sea. They have abducted commercial sailors from Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam and asked huge ransoms from the victims’ relatives for their safe release.
Maritime terrorists are known for their expertise in launching terror attacks at sea. In 2004, members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf were the prime suspect on the February 27, 2004 bombing attack and sinking of Superferry 14 that killed 116 people. International media described the incident as the world’s deadliest terrorist attack at sea.
The Abu Sayyaf Group has made at least $12 million since 2012 from their extortion and kidnap for ransom activities.