IF I WERE THE NEXT PRESIDENT…
By BEN R. PUNONGBAYAN
Founder, Buklod National Political Party (First of a series)
As President, I will devote my whole six-year term to transform Philippine governance and Philippine society into an inclusive, fair and shared economy.
The centerpiece and overarching program of that transformation will be the substantial reduction, if not, near eradication of widespread poverty and hunger.
WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
However, there are current issues that may need to be dealt with urgently and placed in proper focus at the outset of the administration. One of these is the protection and preservation of the economic right of the Philippines on the West Philippine Sea.
We will assert vigorously and unequivocally the exploitation right of the Philippines over its delineated economic zone within the West Philippine Sea as confirmed without any ambiguity by the Arbitral Award in 2016.
We will assert that right at every opportunity within the bounds of international diplomacy and practical considerations, including engaging in formal talks with any transgressor, if so warranted. There is no need to threaten war on the issue of the present transgression. That is not an option.
Certainly, we will take any available additional step that can be brought before the United Nations to protect, preserve and exploit that right which, as currently expressed by some knowledgeable parties, should be done. That step alone will keep the assertion of our right in clear view in the international geopolitical scene for as long as necessary.
Some powerful countries have expressed in various ways their support to our right. ++ We will request them to express their support whenever the opportunity arises. We will additionally engage other strategic countries to provide similar strong support.
Whenever the present status quo is disturbed by any party to encroach upon our right, our administration will employ appropriate measures to reverse such encroachment and deter similar future encroachments within proper diplomatic and practical bounds. The overriding course of action is to employ all possible means to arouse international support to assist us in protecting and preserving our right.
For the purposes of pursuing the foregoing objectives and courses of action, I will put together a group of experts to make all the necessary plans and undertake all necessary implementing actions, under my direction.
As part of these plans, it is of utmost importance to vastly strengthen the capability of our Coast Guard, not merely because of the present problem in the West Philippine Sea, but primarily because the Philippines is an archipelago and we need to protect the vast area of our oceanic economic zones. The greater problem is the sufficiency of the number of our Coast Guard ocean vessels.
We will review thoroughly the existing acquisition plans and accelerate the acquisition of modern and adequately-equipped vessels. Of course, finding the funds to pay for a large number of vessel acquisitions, in both the short-term and the long-term, will be extremely challenging.
We will find other feasible ways of doing so. One possible way is to engage the appropriate countries to provide us with a lend-lease mechanism similar to the program established by the United States during World War II to supply its allies with the needed war equipment and materials.
An additional way is to explore willing countries to build the Coast Guard vessels, and also needed additional Philippine Navy vessels, in Philippine soil under a long-term supply contract with the view that the construction costs could be reduced.
We will explore all other possibilities that may provide viable funding solutions.
Organizationally, the Philippine Coast Guard is under the Department of Transportation. Whatever the reason for creating that structure in the past, such structure now appears to be strange and would not lend to greater effectiveness that is urgently needed.
The better place for the Coast Guard, the function of which involves internal security, is to transfer it to the Department of Interior and Local Government which also has jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police. In this connection, it is necessary that the mission and structure of DILG be thoroughly reviewed and make it similar to the US Department of Homeland Security.
For this purpose, its administrative function over the local government units will be spinned off to another department or directly to the Office of the President. The present DILG may then be renamed as Department of National Security and may also take over the Bureau of Immigration, among others.
The foregoing matters relating to the Philippine Coast Guard will be pursued with great vigor and in so doing strengthen greatly the effectiveness of the government’s overall function over the country’s internal security.
I consider the protection and preservation of the Philippine right over its economic zone in the West Philippine Sea as a sacred duty. If we cannot resolve the existing disputes in connection with this right during our watch, we will endeavor to preserve that right intact and pass it on to the future generations of Filipinos who may be better able to resolve the disputes during their own watch. We will do no less.
Benjamin R. Punongbayan, Founder of the Buklod National Political Party, is an experienced public accounting practitioner who started the Punongbayan & Araullo accounting firm 33 years ago.