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National security virtually left to private parties—are we serious?

Of late, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through its Office of Transportation Security (OTS), was reported to have accredited the National Maritime Safety and Security Agency (NAMSSA) for domestic maritime security in the country’s major and minor ports.

Reports have it that the NAMSSA “is the first recognized security organization (RSO) in the Philippines that has the capability to undertake the Maritime Intelligence Risk Suite (MIRS) that can track all vessels, ports, weather, and any security risks via satellite.”

In the light of the multifaceted risks that every country in the world is facing today, there is indeed a need to enhance the public and private sectors collaboration.

As noted by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, “[t]he globalization of crime – whether terrorism, international trafficking of drugs, contraband, and people, or cyber crime – absolutely requires us to integrate law enforcement efforts around the world.” And, for this, “the FBI relies heavily upon its law enforcement and intelligence partners around the nation and around the globe. By combining our resources and our collective expertise, we are able to investigate national security threats that cross both geographical and jurisdictional boundaries,” declares FBI Director James B. Comey.

The move of DOTr-OTS to tap NAMSSA is practical and timely on one hand, but alarming on the other. And here’s why: Practical and timely, because it is reportedly connected to the Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS) of the United Nations International Maritime Oranization (IMO), and this is what every organization needs – real time monitoring. Timely and alarming, because with the advent of Republic Act No. 10668, otherwise known as “AN ACT ALLOWING FOREIGN VESSELS TO TRANSPORT AND CO-LOAD FOREIGN CARGOES FOR DOMESTIC TRANSSHIPMENT AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES” designed “(a) [t]o assist importers and exporters in enhancing their competitiveness in light of intensifying international trade; and (b) [t]o lower the cost of shipping export cargoes from Philippine ports to international ports and import cargoes from international ports for the benefit of the consumers,” the requirements of national security in favor of trade facilitation will likely be affected in no small measure.

Consider, for instance, the entitlement of foreign vessels carrying foreign container vans or foreign cargoes. Under Section 4 of the law, a foreign vessel:

“(a) Arriving from a foreign port, shall be allowed to carry a foreign cargo to its Philippine port of final destination, after being cleared at its port of entry;

“(b) Arriving from a foreign port, shall be allowed to carry a foreign cargo by another foreign vessel calling at the same port of entry to the Philippine port of final destination of such foreign cargo;

“(c) Departing from a Philippine port of origin through another Philippine port to its foreign port of final destination, shall be allowed to carry a foreign cargo intended for export; and

“(d) Departing from a Philippine port of origin, shall be allowed to carry a foreign cargo by another foreign vessel through a domestic transshipment port and transferred at such domestic transshipment port to its foreign port of final destination.”

With the current state of our border control and management capabilities in our ports – international as well as domestic, paragraph (a) situation adds more pressure to our response capacities, the clearance formalities at the port of entry notwithstanding. That situation A heightens the risk is bad enough, situation B (paragraph b) makes it even riskier.

What is the current screening protocol in Situation B? Who supervises actual transfer of cargoes from Vessel A to Vessel B? Who are the mandatory overseers during the actual transfer? Were these mandatory overseers subjected to real SRAs – security risks assessment, themselves? Are the goods subject to the same risk management system currently obtaining in the customs bureau? Will they be allowed to co-load the cargoes regardless of tags – super green, green, yellow, and red?

Further, under this new Cabotage law, an empty foreign container van going to or coming from any Philippine port, or going to or coming from a foreign port, and being transshipped between two (2) Philippine ports shall be allowed.

If this situation does not send shivers down the spine of our security managers, I do not know what will. For who is not aware of the dismal performance of privatized government services?

There is no gainsaying that the response capacities in our ports are wanting, and tapping the capacities of the private sector is perforce a sound move. But, what are the protocols? What are the reportorial requirements? What are the sanctions? And, in case of criminal liabilities, who shall be held responsible? And, if the 6.4B shabu smuggling were to be the yardstick – where there was fingerpointing en secula secolorum – our security officials should better be ready for precarious shockwaves.

NAMSSA’s reported declaration that it will “verify compliance and inspect/audit all ports, ships,, shipping companies under the directive and authorization of OTS led by its administrator,” and that it will be “available 24/7 to scrutinize the nation’s ports, shipping companies, and shipyards to deter any threat to terrorism, drug proliferation, and any illegal activities,” the private sector will have assumed a very crucial role in the country’s national security affairs.

Again, what are the protocols? Or, what was the basis of its accreditation? What were the standards? Who shall be owning the database derived and/or generated from these security audits? What is the accreditation’s impact on the Presidential directive that only the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) shall undertake enforcement operation versus the menace of illegal drugs?

There are many more serious questions that are pregnant with security implications.

Relatedly, Malaya Business Insight has, of late, reported: “FPI bucks trade facilitation move.”

FPI chief Jesus Arranza was reportedly opposed to the plans of the Trade department to “facilitate release of imported cement while test results on the shipment are pending, saying the lack of another layer of protection would endanger the safety of Filipino consumers.”

The Trade department’s concern, undoubtedly, is trade facilitation, while that of the FPI’s chief was consumer protection – that is understandable. But a more serious one is security implication in the light of global terrorism and extremism whose modality of perpetration have been very creative as well as fluid.

Trade facilitation has already adopted pre-shipment inspections – reportedly devised to do away with the “disport survey” which delays the clearance process and only exposes the shippers to additional berthing and port fees.

Indeed, the intention of trade facilitation is noble. In fact, the global traders will be benefited by another facility that is soon to be implemented – the Asean Single Window (ASW) mechanism that operates on the member economies’ mutual recognition.

But, up to what extent are we going to loosen our screens in the name of trade facilitation? If trade facilitation is an imposition of a suprabody whose rules and directives deserve compliance by its member economies, who shall be held responsible for the entry of anti-social goods that have slipped past our borders the past years that we’ve been complying with the rules of trade facilitation?

“The prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people,” declares the 1987 Constitution. And, “[t]he Government may call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service.”

Further, the fundamental law declares that “[t]he maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.”

Toward these ends, the Philippine Development Plan 2017-22 states that “[n]ational security and public order are essential elements in building the foundation for inclusive growth, a high trust and resilient society, and a globally competitive knowledge economy.”

But, the developments, of late, tend to favor letting the private sector handle the crucial role of managing our national security concerns.

Is the inadequacy of the government sufficient justification for virtually leaving our security screens in the hands of the private sector? Should not the government invest in this facet of governance where the social costs are beyond pecuniary estimation?

Just a thought!

About Atty. Ramon Cuyco

Ramon G. Cuyco, Esq., CESO (inactive), former Regional Director, LTO; former DOTC Spokesperson; former Customs Director, former Head, Competitive Planning and Management Staff of the Bureau of Immigration. Currently, a Project-based Consultant at the Development Academy of the Philippines.

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