Philippines Reshuffles its Maritime Security Command Structure

A China Coast Guard cutter harasses a Philippine supply boat with water cannon (Philippine Coast Guard file image)
A China Coast Guard cutter harasses a Philippine supply boat with water cannon (Philippine Coast Guard file image)

Published Mar 31, 2024 10:54 PM by The Maritime Executive


Amid China’s rising aggression in the South China Sea, the Philippines is moving to boost its maritime security through the re-organization of a top coordinating body.

In a new executive order revealed on Sunday, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. renamed and reorganized the National Coast Watch Council (NCWC) to the National Maritime Council(NMC). Among the functions of the NMC is to formulate policies and strategies for a unified and coordinated government approach to the country’s maritime security and domain awareness.

While the coastguard and the navy constituted the backbone of the previous NCWC, the new NMC will be headed Philippines’ Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, a cabinet position under the office of the president. Besides the navy, representatives of the other military branches are named as members of the NMC, in what seems to be an expansion of the armed forces’ role to deal with maritime security issues.

Additional members of the NMC include secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture (DA), Energy (DOE), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the National Security Adviser. The secretaries of the departments of finance, interior and local government, transportation along with the Solicitor General, and the Director General of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) are also members of NMC.

Under the executive order, President Marcos instructed the NMC to formulate and issue maritime security guidelines for immediate implementation within 60 days.

“Strengthening the country’s maritime security and domain awareness is imperative to comprehensively tackle the cross-cutting issues that impact the nation’s national security, sovereign rights, and maritime jurisdiction over its extensive maritime zones,” said Marcos.

This executive order comes almost a week after a Chinese coast guard vessel fired water cannons at a Philippine supply ship near the Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, which caused heavy damage to the vessel and injuries to several of its crew. Marcos condemned the incident and promised to implement “proportionate, deliberate and reasonable” countermeasures, according to a statement he posted on X.

China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, including areas with massive untapped oil and natural gas resources. Its claims overlap the exclusive economic zones of neighboring coastal states, including the Philippines. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague invalidated China’s sweeping maritime claims in 2016, but Beijing has ignored the ruling.