[ANALYSIS] Recalibrate the Philippine Navy’s compass before it even sets sail
The following piece was first published on the Strategic & Warfare Studies Initiative website.
In his speech as the new Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) of the Philippine Navy (PN), Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo Bacordo highlighted 3 priority programs under his administration: capacitate the Naval Sea Systems Command; implement skills specialization for its personnel; and “modernize the mindsets” of every sailor and marine.
Indeed, these are remarkable concerns that the Navy has to undertake in its quest to be a formidable force in defending Philippine sovereignty. However, it is essential to emphasize that the PN remains to have underlying institutional issues that continually challenge and disrupt the various programs of whoever is at the helm. Thus, one could argue that settling these lingering matters may be the best approach for the new FOIC; otherwise, his plans will never be realized.
The most intriguing of these issues is the attempt to separate the Philippine Marine Corps under its organizational supervision. The Senate Bill 1731 of Sen. Angara and the House Bill 7304 of Congressman Fariñas both stressed the importance of a rapidly deployable amphibious maneuver force in an archipelagic country like the Philippines. These bills emphasized that the current existence of the PMC needs to be institutionalized by the passage of its own charter, which would categorize it as the fourth branch of service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“In retrospect, it is about time that the PN must have an enabling law that defined its institutional structure and roles...gone are the days that brute force and offensive military action could justify why the military is still performing constabulary roles. The lack of a relevant charter allows the Navy to tread on the gray area, where there is no clear delineation between law enforcement and military operations.”
Secondly, though the Strategic Sail Plan 2020 vision of the PN states that “it will be a strong and credible Navy that the Philippine nation can be proud of by 2020,” it is satirical to allude that it does not just have antiquated equipment, but it is preoccupied in performing maritime law enforcement roles and other constabulary functions. The PN is still tied up in supporting the AFP’s internal security operations. With these domestic threats, although necessary for the military to address as well, it is worth accentuating that the long history of insurgency in the Philippines has hampered the PN to develop as a potent naval force strategically.
Lastly, the PN’s constabulary roles avert collaboration with other law enforcement and regulating institutions. The Navy’s lack of concrete mandate to validate its law enforcement activities results in failure of convergence with other law enforcement agencies like the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Philippine National Police Maritime Group (PNP-MG). Since these agencies recognize that the fundamental role of the PN is territorial defense while they have the mandates in carrying out law enforcement, they wonder why gray ships are even engaged in such operations.
These 3 issues of organizational dilemma, ambiguous mandates, and inter-service “turf wars” can be adequately addressed by an enacted law. However, what is startling is that the PN, despite its long history, never had an enabling law enacted by Congress. Surprisingly, most of our current naval officers assume that it is the 1987 Philippine Constitution, and the National Defense Act of 1935 (Commonwealth Act No. 1) distinctly defined the PN’s existence. In scrutinizing these legal instruments, it is apparent that there are no provisions that mentioned the creation of the PN and even its mandates.
The first instance that a naval force was mentioned in the Philippine laws was through Executive Order 94, signed by President Manuel Roxas when he reorganized the government. The Philippine Naval Patrol was created as a successor of the offshore patrol and was considered as one of the major Commands of the regular force of the AFP. Subsequently, Executive Order 389, during the time of President Elpidio Quirino, became the reference of the PN’s official title. This was also the first time that the Navy’s functions were clearly defined.
Since then, until the fall of Marcos in 1986, the PN continuously exists and performed these mandates by merely referring to the EO. However, when the new Constitution was crafted in 1987, and Executive Order 292 or the Administrative Code of the Philippines was promulgated, the PN’s mandates shifted on the provisions laid out by the latter.
Accordingly, the stipulated PN’s law enforcement mission set in EO 292 became its justification for carrying out constabulary functions related to navigation, the safety of life at sea, immigration, customs revenues, narcotics, quarantine, and even fishing. Nevertheless, since the EO 292 was enforced, new laws were enacted by Congress that apparently repealed these functions: “Domestic Shipping Act,” “PCG Law,” “Quarantine Act,” “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act,” “Customs Modernization and Tariff Act,” and the “Fishery Code of the Philippines,” among others.
In retrospect, it is about time that the PN must have an enabling law that defined its institutional structure and roles. If the PN fails to secure a law that would establish its organization, perhaps it will not just be the Marines that would attempt to separate from the Navy’s hierarchy of command. Moreover, gone are the days that brute force and offensive military action could justify why the Philippine military is still performing constabulary roles. The lack of a relevant charter allows the Navy to tread on the gray area, where there is no clear delineation between law enforcement and military operations.
Besides, the charter would allow them to set their annual budget percentage and even its modernization programs without actually waiting on the affirmation of the Army-dominated AFP leadership. It is common knowledge that the priority of funding has always been given to the Army. This was justified by the continuous counterinsurgency efforts and the emergence of terrorism in Mindanao. The collective setting of the military has made it difficult for the PN to massively recruit personnel since the Army’s additional foot soldiers remains a priority.
Without a dedicated law for the Navy, it will continuously struggle as an institution. The PN will never be able to grow independently as a formidable force since it is not just “resource competition” with the Philippine Army that it has to grapple with, but most importantly, it has to fight for strategic relevance with other agencies that were backed by Congressional mandates to carry out constabulary roles. – Rappler.com
Jay Tristan Tarriela is a commissioned officer of the Philippine Coast Guard with the rank of Commander, and is currently a PhD candidate and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) scholar at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) under the GRIPS Global Governance (G-cube) Program in Tokyo, Japan. He is also a Young Leader with Pacific Forum, Honolulu.