By Kenneth Christiane L. Basilio

THE HOUSE of Representatives has asked the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to submit its modernization plan, which lawmakers could use as a basis to increase its budget next year.

The plan should include steps and the resources it needs amid growing tensions with China, Speaker and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement on Thursday.

“By ensuring that our Coast Guard is well-equipped and well-funded, we can better protect our territorial integrity against external threats and assert our sovereign rights in these contested waters,” he added.

Congressmen on Wednesday said they were open to increasing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) budget next year, citing the need to defend the country from foreign encroachment.

The House will discuss the budgets of state agencies from August to October.

Mr. Romualdez said the PCG should say what equipment and vessels it needs to patrol the country’s seas more effectively.

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a senior research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center, said the coast guard should ask for equipment separate from the Philippine Navy.

“The navy is at the forefront of our external maritime defense,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Hence, it will need ships and vessels that are suited for this task. The PCG plays a mere supporting role in this instance, and therefore its needs will be starkly different.”

Don McLain Gill, an international relations lecturer at De La Salle University, said the coast guard modernization should ensure interoperability with its allies including the United States and Japan.

“Modernization must also be centered on our partnerships, particularly with Japan and the US, which have been pivotal in improving the capabilities of our PCG,” he said via Messenger chat.

Its modernization would directly improve the country’s food security, Rocio Salle Gatdula, a defense economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said in a Messenger chat.

The South China Sea is a vital source of fish for Filipinos, think-tank Stratbase ADR Institute said in a 2019 report.

Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has said Filipino fishermen catch about 275,520 metric tons of fish in the disputed sea each year, contributing to 6-7% of the Philippines’ total fishery output.

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, where the Philippines grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to asserts its sovereignty.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2016 voided China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea, a ruling that Beijing rejected.