THE BRP SIERRA MADRE, a marooned transport ship which Philippine Marines live in as a military outpost, is pictured in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. — REUTERS

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should prioritize coastline defense projects, political analysts said, as the country focuses on external threats and banks on a civilian strategy amid rising tensions with China.

“They should have the same prioritization as flagship infrastructure projects because coastline defense protects our territorial integrity and water resources,” Terry L. Ridon, convenor of infrastructure think tank InfraWatch PH, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

The National Economic and Development Authority Board last week approved the third phase of the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) P29.3-billion maritime safety capability project.

The project involves the design, construction and delivery of five units of multi-role response vessels to the coast guard.

The Marcos government should prioritize the project since the Philippines is pursuing a civilian strategy amid tensions in the South China Sea, Chester B. Cabalza, founder of Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Coast guard diplomacy should prevail since maritime insecurity in the West Philippine Sea has a civilian tincture,” he added, referring to areas of the South China within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

The PCG was under the Department of National Defense before it was transferred to the Office of the President on March 30, 1998 through an order issued by the late President Fidel V. Ramos.

Less than a month later, Mr. Ramos transferred the coast guard to the Department of Transportation and Communications, which was split into two into separate agencies in 2016 through a 2015 law signed by the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III.

The PCG has since been under the Transportation department.

The House of Representatives in October transferred P1.23 billion worth of confidential funds of five agencies to those involved in the protection of Philippine features in the South China Sea.

Among the agencies that will receive additional funding are the PCG, which is set to receive P200 million for its intelligence activities and ammunition, and the Transportation department, which will get 381.8 million more for the development and expansion of Pag-asa Island Airport.

“PCG’s mandate on maritime security advances the collective action of safeguarding our sea lines of communication and maintaining an intact maritime domain awareness since the country is an archipelagic state,” Mr. Cabalza said.

“The PCG offers a primordial platform for regional interoperability of coast guardians across the Indo-Pacific that includes allies and strategic partners through integrated logistics support,” he added.

The PCG’s Chinese counterpart is not civilian in nature because it is under the Central Military Commission, the highest national defense organization in China, Defense Undersecretary Ignacio Madriaga told a Senate hearing in September.

China has been blocking Philippine resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, which is about 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan Island. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza